News / Science & Technology

    Hubble's Dazzling Mission Nears Its End

    Hubble's Dazzling Mission Nears Its Endi
    X
    Rosanne Skirble
    May 23, 2014 2:07 PM
    The Hubble Space Telescope has changed the way we see the universe. For almost a quarter of a century, it has sent vast amounts of data and images from space. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington documents how Hubble’s remarkable success has hinged on its ability to be repaired and serviced in orbit. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
    Rosanne Skirble
    The Hubble Space Telescope has changed the way we see the universe.

    For almost a quarter of a century, it has sent vast amounts of data and images from space. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington documents how Hubble’s remarkable success has hinged on its ability to be repaired and serviced in orbit. 
       
    Hubble was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Mission Control saw something it hadn’t expected: fuzzy images. Hubble Space Telescope Program Manager Douglas Broome delivered the troubling news: 

    “The conclusion we’ve come to is that a significant spherical aberration appears to be present in the optics, in the optical telescope system optics,” he said.  
     
    Hubble Telescope's Mission Nears Its End
    Hubble Telescope's Mission Nears Its Endi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    In other words - the outer edge of Hubble's primary mirror had been ground too flat, off by roughly one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. In 1993, a shuttle mission carried a replacement camera, WFPC2 and an instrument with corrective lenses called COSTAR for astronauts to install on the telescope.

    “The COSTAR inserted mirrors into the optical beam that corrected the light for all the other instruments,” said National Air and Space Museum senior curator David Devorkin

    The fix proved that very difficult and very complicated operations could be undertaken by shuttle astronauts. 

    “The whole idea of living and working in space is doing useful stuff and this certainly was useful," Devorkin said. "On the astronomical side and you might say on the technical side, it represents how fast telescopes are improving because Hubble was only repaired once, but it was upgraded four times.”
     
    • The near collision of two spiral galaxies taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on Nov. 4, 1999. (NASA)
    • Almost immediately after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, Hubble scientists saw fuzzy images (left), which were corrected (right) with new instruments by shuttle astronauts three years later. (NASA)
    • Among its remarkable discoveries is a deeper understanding of the evolution of the universe and capturing images of galaxies that may have formed less than one billion years after the Big Bang, Jan. 15, 1996. (NASA)
    • This image surveys star birth in the Great Orion Nebula, which is located 6,500 light-years from Earth and is the remnant of a star that began its life with about 10 times the mass of our own Sun. (NASA)
    • This image surveys star birth in the Great Orion Nebula, which is located 6,500 light-years from Earth and is the remnant of a star that began its life with about 10 times the mass of our own Sun. (NASA)
    • These delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion. (NASA)
    • The Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 88 million kilometers away. This image was assembled from a series of exposures taken over 36 hours. (NASA)
    • NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has trained its razor-sharp eye on one of the universe's most stately and photogenic galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy. (NASA)
    • The two spiral galaxies started to interact a few hundred million years ago, making the Antennae galaxies one of the nearest and youngest examples of a pair of colliding galaxies. (NASA)
    • Vibrant magentas and blues reveal a galaxy ablaze with star formation. The galaxy, also known as the Southern Pinwheel, lies 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. (NASA)
    • These eerie, dark pillar-like structures are actually columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust that are also incubators for new stars. (NASA)
    • The James Webb Space Telescope with a mirror five times larger than Hubble’s will peer deeper into the infrared. (NASA/JWST)

    COSTAR and WFPC2 were replaced in 2009 and are now on exhibit in the museum.  

    Hubble images have become better and sharper over time, and its data has allowed astronomers to confirm that the universe is expanding and calculate its age to some 13 to 14 billion years. 

    And the powerful space telescope has led to other important breakthroughs. 

    "… understanding star forming regions, how stars form out of gas and dust, and now the ability of the Hubble to see deeply into the infrared, far deeper than before has shown us the processes inside these interstellar clouds that literally are forming the stars and their interaction with the dust and gas around them,” Devorkin said.   
     
    As Hubble nears the end of its journey in space, the telescope has paved the way for its replacement. The James Webb Space Telescope - with an expected launch date in 2018 - will probe even farther beyond the spectrum of light with a primary mirror five times larger than Hubble. 

    “The James Webb is optimized for infrared because all of the most amazing discoveries about galaxy formation, star formation and the kind of stuff that astronomers want to know is in the infrared,” Devorkin said. 

    No more service missions are scheduled for repairs or upgrades. Hubble's components will slowly degrade to the point the telescope stops working. When that happens, the telescope will continue to orbit the Earth until its orbit decays, allowing it to spiral toward Earth. A robotic mission is expected to help de-orbit Hubble, guiding its remains through a plunge through the atmosphere and into the ocean, as its stellar career comes to an end.

    But for now, as Hubble nears its 25th birthday next year, the telescope is still going strong. 

    Astronomers hope it will last long enough for the James Webb Space Telescope to launch so that the two can be in space at same time and calibrate with one another.  

    Until its space journey comes to an end, Hubble remains a workhorse for astronomers and continues to delight the public with dazzling images.

    You May Like

    Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora