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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs