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The Jacana Astronomy Site

The Hubble Space Telescope

 

 

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ABOUT THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

Named after the trailblazing astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953), the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a large, space-based observatory which has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the Universe, ranging from our own solar system to extremely remote fledgling galaxies forming not long after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

Launched in 1990 and greatly extended in its scientific powers through new instrumentation installed during four servicing missions with the Space Shuttle, the Hubble, in its eighteen years of operations, has validated Lyman Spitzer Jr.'s (1914-1997) original concept of a diversely instrumented observatory orbiting far above the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere and returning data of unique scientific value.

Hubble's coverage of light of different colors (its "spectral range") extends from the ultraviolet, through the visible (to which our eyes are sensitive), and into the near-infrared. Hubble's primary mirror is 2.4 meters (94.5 inches) in diameter. Hubble is not large by ground-based standards but it performs heroically in space. Hubble orbits Earth every 96 minutes, 575 kilometers (360 miles) above the Earth's surface.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD performs the daily orbital operations, servicing mission development, and overall management of the Hubble Program. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, MD develops and executes Hubble's scientific program and is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under contract to NASA.

On August 11, 2008 the Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit.

The Hubble Space Telescope is poised for many more years of trailblazing science ranging from our own solar system to the edge of the observable universe, it is fulfilling the hopes astronomers have long held for a large, optically superb telescope orbiting above the Earth’s distorting atmosphere and providing uniquely clear and deep views of the cosmos.

The only one of NASA’s four “Great Observatories” (Hubble, Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and Spitzer Space Telescope) that is serviceable by Space Shuttle astronauts, Hubble has seen its capabilities grow immensely in its sixteen historic years of operation. This has been the direct result of the installation of new, cutting-edge scientific instruments and more powerful engineering components. Replacement of aging or failed parts has been an important part of servicing and has been responsible for the telescope’s longevity.

All of the Great Observatories have a particular range of light, or “electromagnetic radiation,” to which they are designed and are sensitive. Hubble’s coverage ranges from 1,200 Angstroms in the ultraviolet (1 Angstrom = 1 hundred-millionth of a centimeter) to 2.4 microns (24,000 Angstroms) in the near-infrared. Hubble’s UV-to-near-IR spectral range is a key piece of “astronomical real estate” — a dominant range of wavelengths emitted by stars and galaxies — and Hubble takes advantage of this access with both imaging and spectroscopy.

Compared to ground-based telescopes, Hubble is not particularly large. With a primary mirror diameter of 2.4 meters (94.5 inches), Hubble would at most be considered a medium-size telescope on the ground. However, the combination of its precision optics, location above the atmosphere, state-of-the-art instrumentation, and unprecedented pointing stability and control, allows Hubble to more than make up for its lack of Galaxies in the Hubble Ultra Deep Fieldsize. The most detailed look at the farthest known galaxies in the Universe has been obtained by imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope. Spectroscopically, Hubble has detected several atomic constituents in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system, an enormously difficult measurement and a “first” in this critical and growing field whose ultimate aim is to look for places elsewhere in the Universe where the conditions for life exist.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has announced a fifth servicing mission (SM4) to Hubble in 2008. During SM4, the installation of two new instruments — Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and Wide-Field Camera 3 — will provide Hubble with more powerful capabilities than ever before. Other mission activities include repairing the STIS instrument, and replacing the batteries and the gyros.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 28 July, 2011