By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
On the 30th anniversary of its launch, the Hubble Space Telescope sent incredible images to Earth, BBC News reported. Showing no signs of slowing down, its equipment remains at full operational capacity. For three decades, it has sent us incredible images of the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope has helped renew and rejuvenate humanity’s interest in outer space, and it celebrated its “30th birthday” on April 24. “The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos,” the BBC News article said. “Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built. It’s still far from retirement.”
Among its achievements, Hubble helped determine the age of the universe at approximately 13 billion years. On a slightly smaller scope, Hubble has enabled humanity to explore the Milky Way galaxy that we call home.
What Makes Hubble So Special
There are countless ground-based telescopes on Earth. Additionally, scientists have sent plenty of satellites into orbit, just as they’ve sent space probes to the farthest planets in the solar system. However, the Hubble Space Telescope stands in a class all its own, largely due to the clarity and sharpness of images it sends back to Earth.
“The key to its image sharpness is its location in Earth orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers, above the blurring effects of our turbulent atmosphere,” said Dr. David M. Meyer, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University. “With its 2.4-meter diameter mirror, Hubble was designed to have a resolving power 10 times better than the largest ground-based optical telescopes when it was launched in 1990. Since that time, it has been serviced five times with new instrumentation by the now-retired Space Shuttle fleet.”
Dr. Meyer said that Hubble’s upgrades have included more powerful cameras and spectrographs. According to the BBC News article, one of the toughest nuts to crack has been the series of six gyroscopes Hubble uses to turn and point itself. “These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009, Space Shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six,” the article said.
In total, Hubble has produced over a million observations of the universe that have appeared in more than 15,000 scientific papers.
Journey to the Center of the Galaxy
Due to stardust and other space debris obstructing the view, one of the sights humanity has sorely missed seeing is the center of the Milky Way. Now, with Hubble, this opportunity is finally upon us.
“Because the galactic center is so far away from us, there is a thick shroud of intervening stardust making it unobservable in optical light,” Dr. Meyer said. “However, utilizing Hubble’s newest near-infrared camera, we have pierced through the dust to reveal the richest star cluster in the Milky Way. There, the stellar density is a million times greater than in our neighborhood of the Milky Way.”
According to Dr. Meyer, this star cluster surrounds a supermassive black hole that has a mass equal to four million suns. That black hole is the center of our galaxy.
In the past 30 years, Hubble has brought the universe to our doorstep, providing unprecedented looks at distant stars, nebulae, and other celestial objects. It should have several years ahead of it to continue exploring the universe from Earth’s orbit.
Dr. David M. Meyer contributed to this article. Dr. Meyer is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University. He earned his B.S. in Astrophysics from the University of Wisconsin, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.