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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid