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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
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 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 Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
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.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

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