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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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