News / USA

Hubble's Gaze Extends to Edges of Universe

Telescope observes planets, stars, galaxies with unprecedented clarity

This image of the Cat's Eye Nebula, captured by the Hubble telescope, is one of the first planetary nebulae discovered and has one of the most complex forms known to this kind of nebula. Eleven rings, or shells, of gas make up the Cat's Eye.
This image of the Cat's Eye Nebula, captured by the Hubble telescope, is one of the first planetary nebulae discovered and has one of the most complex forms known to this kind of nebula. Eleven rings, or shells, of gas make up the Cat's Eye.

Multimedia

Ever since the days of Galileo and the first optical telescopes more than 400 years ago, astronomers have been looking for ways to cast their gaze farther into the heavens around us. Today, thanks to the earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, that gaze extends to the very edges of the known universe.

On April 24, 1990, the U.S. space shuttle Discovery roared into orbit carrying the special instrument which would revolutionize our knowledge of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope was designed to orbit the earth - far above the obscuring haze of the earth’s atmosphere - observing planets, stars, galaxies and other distant celestial objects with unprecedented clarity.

The Hubble Space Telescope, a large, space-based observatory, has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope, a large, space-based observatory, has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe.

The school bus-sized telescope, named after American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, took 10 years to build at a cost of $1.5 billion. More than 10,000 people were involved in its design and construction.

Nancy Grace Roman is considered the “mother” of the Hubble. As the first chief astronomer at the U.S. space agency, NASA, Roman played a pivotal role in Hubble’s early planning and development.

She travelled around the country, talking with astronomers about what they needed in a new telescope.

“Astronomers had been wanting to get observations from above the atmosphere for a long time," says Roman. "Looking through the atmosphere is somewhat like looking through a piece of old, stained glass. The glass has defects in it, so the image is blurred from that.”

Roman set up a committee of astronomers, and NASA engineers to design a large and serviceable observatory that would orbit above the atmosphere and transmit clear images of the universe back to earth.

Ed Weiler, NASA’s current chief astronomer, worked with Roman and has been intimately involved with the Hubble program since he succeeded her in 1979.

“The Hubble, when it was launched, represented an increase in capability of other telescopes on the ground by a factor of 10," he says. "The last time in human history in astronomy that we leaped a factor of 10, in one step, was when Galileo stopped using his eye and put the first telescope to his eye.”

Despite an initial glitch with a defective mirror, Hubble’s mission of observation and discovery has been historic. The telescope’s wide-field camera has captured and transmitted stunning images of celestial objects back to earth, many of them more distant than anything seen before.

“The Hubble can see things that are billions of times fainter than your human eye can see, and it can resolve objects very, very much more clearly," says Weiler. "For instance, you can see a firefly on the moon with the Hubble, whereas you wouldn’t see that with your eye.”

Roman recalls how excited she was to see her first Hubble pictures.

“I think the image that to me was most striking was a picture of the center of a globular cluster," she says. "You could see each star individually, and see their color, and it was just a fantastic sight.”

Hubble's image of three moons casting shadows on Jupiter
Hubble's image of three moons casting shadows on Jupiter

Since its deployment more than 20 years ago, Hubble has expanded our knowledge of the universe a thousand-fold. The telescope has been upgraded in a series of space shuttle servicing missions. Its images of distant stars and galaxies have allowed astronomers to calculate that the universe was born about 14 billion years ago, a much more accurate measure than the old estimate of somewhere between 10 to 20 billion years.

Weiler says another of Hubble’s many scientific milestones was its confirmation of the existence of dark energy, a force that’s speeding the expansion of the universe. Hubble also proved that mysterious gravitational vortexes, known as black holes, exist at the center of most galaxies.

“Black holes were science fiction. "Star Trek," "Star Wars," "Black Holes"; nice theory but nobody believes in them right?" says Weiler. "Hubble proved they exist.”

On July 4 of this year, the Hubble Space Telescope completed its one millionth science observation; a spectrograph of an exoplanet 1,000 light-years away.

Today, the earth-orbiting observatory continues to perform what is widely hailed as one of the most successful space science missions in history.  

As plans proceed for the launch of a new and even more powerful earth-orbiting telescope, Hubble is expected to remain in service for at least another decade, continuing to revolutionize astronomy and expand our knowledge of the universe.

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid