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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

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.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More