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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs