(MEDIA GENERAL) – NASA and the rest of the science community will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope today, which was launched into space April 24, 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
The Hubble Space Telescope, a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, has made some of the most dramatic discoveries in the history of astronomy, with abilities to look far beyond ground-based telescopes.
“Hubble is still on the forefront of scientific discovery and exploration,” said Dr. Jennifer J. Wiseman, senior astrophysicist and senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The observatory is very scientifically powerful, making new discoveries and scientific advances in everything from solar system dynamics to the large scale structure of the universe.”
The project was developed to gather clearer pictures of deep space. Light traveling through the Earth’s atmosphere gets blurred and distorts pictures, bringing a need for a space-based observatory such as the Hubble. This same effect is the reason stars appear to twinkle at night, per the Hubble’s web site. With its advantage, the Hubble can detect light five times sharper than ground-based telescopes.
Some of Hubble’s biggest discoveries, per Wiseman, are the first definitive detection of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and the measurement of the expansion rate and age of the universe.
The Hubble has changed the way scientists view space, changing hypotheses and bringing new evidence to light.
“Hubble has been able to get beautifully sharp images and precise scientific data, revealing a universe full of activity,” Wiseman said. “It has shown us that galaxies in the universe have changed over the billions of years of cosmic time, producing stars that over time produce heavy elements needed for planets and life.”
The Hubble has undergone several changes since its launch in 1990. Astronauts have taken five trips to Hubble to repair equipment and add new tools; the most important being the first trip in 1993 to fix a flaw with Hubble’s primary mirror that resulted in blurry photos. The most recent trip was in 2009, which Wiseman said ensured Hubble’s relevance until at least 2020.
“Hubble has a suite of several powerful scientific instruments and is more scientifically productive than ever,” Wiseman said. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data until at least 2020 or years beyond, and NASA scientists are exploring options for the best scientific use of Hubble in its remaining years ahead.”
Hubble facts from NASA
• Hubble has made more than 1.2 million observations since its mission began in 1990.
• Astronomers using Hubble data have published more than 12,800 scientific papers, making it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever created.
• The telescope spins around the Earth at around 17,000 mph and has traveled more than 3 billion miles, all while sitting about 340 miles above the planet.
• In order to take images of distant, faint objects, Hubble must be extremely steady. The telescope can lock onto a target without deviating more than 7/1,000th of an arcsecond – the equivalent of being able to see the width of a human hair from one mile away.