The Hubble Space Telescope has brought us a lot of wondrous images to Earth – the one of the nebula located 20,000 light-years away from Earth is not the least of them – and now we get to celebrate its 25th anniversary in space on this very Friday.
Ever since it was launched on April 24, 1990, the huge telescope has been of incredible help to the astronomers on Earth: we could calculate the age of the Universe, find out how planets are born and also come to realize that there is a supermassive black hole in the center of most galaxies.
Eight years after its launch into space, Hubble helped astrophysicists into figuring out that the Universe in not only in constant expansion, but it’s also accelerating – a discovery that was honored with a Nobel Prize in physics.
Hubble also discovered one of the most curious-looking galaxies, officially called NGC 2683, but also more commonly dubbed the UFO galaxy. Due to its form as a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, the UFO galaxy resembles the classic shape of a science fiction spaceship. That’s in fact exactly why the astronomers from the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory decided on this quirky nickname.
More than 1 million observations milestone
So far, Hubble’s record of discoveries is way into the millions: it has made more than 1.2 million observations and generated around 100 terabytes of data – impressively doing so at a 17,000 mph around the Earth.
Mike Garcia, one of Hubble’s scientists at NASA headquarters down in Washington, said that Hubble has made the field of astronomy a lot richer – without it, we would still have a lot of questions unanswered. Not to mention the beauty of the Universe that the Hubble manages to capture; no other tool that astronomers have come up with can generate such state-of-the-art imagery.
Garcia has been employed at NASA and in charge of many of its projects for over 30 years now, and he explains that Hubble has made it possible to study the black holes located in the Andromeda galaxy.
The satellite helped scientists reach the surprising conclusion that not only does each galaxy have a black hole, they also “know” about each other. How do we know that? From the way the size of the black hole is proportional with the size of the galaxy.
Hubble’s eye is not set only toward the outer realms; it can see just as well the heavenly objects closer to our planet. For example, the telescope has provided us with some spectacular pictures of Pluto’s four moons; it also generated photographic proof that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is continually shrinking.
One of the even more impressive imageries that reached the Earth was seeing some fragments of a comet during its crash into the Jupiter. However, Garcia said in an interview that his favorite image captured by Hubble is the one of the Andromeda galaxy’s nucleus. Due to Hubble’s attentive eye, we can see it even if it’s 2 million light-years away.
The picture of the double nucleus of Andromeda – a pretty rare phenomenon in itself – is not as “good-looking” as the common viewer would expect it to be. However, Garcia said he was impressed by how the double nucleus wraps around the galaxy’s supermassive black hole – something “only an astronomer would go wild over.“
We might not think Andromeda is very photogenic, but there are plenty of other space bodies we have gone wild over. Nowadays, Hubble-generated picture can be found all over, from fames on the wall to postage stamps and PC screensavers.
Hubble: still opening eyes to space beauty
As John Trauger, senior scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge, said, Hubble helped the field and people of science communicate their passion for the Universe; the images it continues to generate are capturing our imaginations like nothing else.
According to Trauger, Hubble allows scientists to observe details in objects 10 times farther than what land-based observatories are used to – broadening our field of vision in space by 1,000 times.
Hubble’s “eye” was tested with the Hubble Deep Field: for 10 days, the telescope was set to take pictures of the darkest zone of space. Where the zone was practically sheer nothingness before, Hubble proudly presented us 4,000 new galaxies.
That’s why Hubble is one of the most impressive tools science has ever created – because it allowed us to look all the way back to the genesis of galaxies, and let us take a long look at areas of space that had never been explored before.
It’s been 25 years since its launch in space – 6 since its last mission – and Hubble has never shined more than now. According to Garcia, it is “at its scientific peak of productivity.”
NASA experts believe the satellite has got nothing to worry about until 2037, when the agency calculated that atmospheric drag will start showing effects. Then it will be a matter of improving it or bringing back to Earth.
Image Source: Analog Addiction