Hubble: An Incredible Space Odyssey

Ever since Galileo Galilei invented the telescope, humans peer into the heavens to see what’s out there. At the time, it was difficult to see the rings of Saturn. Advancements in the technology made it easy for an average man to set up a telescope and watch the night sky. But there was still the problem with the Earth’s atmosphere.

The atmosphere blocked out most of the light falling to the ground. So, we erected enormous telescopes on top of huge mountains so that the interference is low. But there were limits to such telescopes and we can’t enlarge them even further. The bigger the telescope, the bigger the interference.

So, astronomers wanted a new kind of telescope that has a range much beyond ground telescopes and also without the interference associated with them. This idea invented the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble: A Quick Peek into History

The most detailed image of the Crab Nebula Captured by The Hubble Space Telescope
The most detailed image of the Crab Nebula Captured by The Hubble Space Telescope

It was Lyman Spitzer who proposed the idea of a space telescope. A space telescope will not have the limitations of ground-based observatories. But it stayed as an idea for nearly two decades. In 1969, the National Academy of Science published a document stating the uses of a space-based observatory.

NASA was the only agency capable of making The Large Space Telescope a reality. They were unsure about how big it must be. It was in 1971 that George Low, the agency’s acting administrator at that time, gave a green light to the project.

NASA soon started urging the congress to fund the project. Although the congress initially wasn’t willing to fund it, NASA’s coalition with the European Space Agency to share the costs urged the congress to finally fund it in 1977.

Development of the Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope deployed by the Discovery Space Shuttle
The Hubble Space Telescope deployed by the Discovery Space Shuttle

Development started immediately, and NASA planned to launch it in 1983. But the launch was postponed to 1986 because of delays in production. It was at this time that the team decided to rename the Large Space Telescope to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in honour of astronomer Edwin Hubble.

In 1986, the tragedy of the Challenger Space Shuttle delayed the project even further. Finally, on April 24, 1990, The Space Shuttle Discovery launched with Hubble on board. The entire cost of production and launch was a whopping $1.5 billion, but the real cost came after the launch. 

The initial instruments onboard the Hubble were the Goddard High-Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS), the Wide Field Planetary Camera, the High-Speed Photometer, the Faint Object Camera (FOC), the Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS).

Right after deployment, it experienced equipment issues. The images captured were blurry because of a minute manufacturing error in the mirror. Hubble was repaired three years later in 1993 when the space shuttle Endeavor and a crew of seven hurried a five-day spacewalk.

They included two new cameras including the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC-2) which took almost all of Hubble’s most famous pictures. In 1993, the team received the first new images from Hubble and they were astonishing!

Take a look at the entire gallery of images from the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Recent Discovery: The Orange Space Ribbon

Hubble was to spend 15 years in Outerspace but is now 30 years old and is still providing breathtaking information. One of its most recent images is of an Orange Ribbon-like structure we see below. 

The ribbon is the remains of a dead star that exploded as a Supernova some 10-20 thousand years ago.
The ribbon is the remains of a dead star that exploded as a Supernova some 10-20 thousand years ago.

The ribbon is the remains of a dead star that exploded as a Supernova some 10-20 thousand years ago. The star was once a part of the Cygnus (The Swan) Constellation.

NASA states that the entire wave spans an area 36 times bigger than the full moon. For comparison, the Earth is 4 times bigger than the moon. The exploded star is roughly 20 times larger than the sun, which is more than the required limit for a star to blast into a supernova (5 times Solar Mass).

NASA also states that the star was about 2400 light-years away so that means the blast is at least 2400 years old. The colour is because of the interaction of ejected material and the low-density interspace material swept away from the blast. 

Hubble: A Space Odyssey

The Hubble Deep Field images showed almost 10,000 new galaxies in a visibly empty space
The Hubble Deep Field images showed almost 10,000 new galaxies in a visibly empty space

As the Hubble Space Telescope is nearing the end of its days in space, there is no doubt that it gave us an insight into some of the most extravagant features of the Universe.

There are over 1.4 million observations from Hubble and over 17,000 scientific publications made using the discoveries of Hubble. Since the last service mission in 2009, a team of experts keeps the telescope active by constantly providing improvements to its machinery.

Although the James Webb Space Telescope is in plans as a successor, Hubble is still running almost perfectly. It will provide more incredible information for many more years to come.

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