Orbital telescopes enable astronomers to have a clear view of the universe and the galaxies from the earth. This helps overcome light distortions and atmospheric blockages caused by shifting air masses. One of the most iconic orbital telescopes ever launched […]
Orbital telescopes enable astronomers to have a clear view of the universe and the galaxies from the earth. This helps overcome light distortions and atmospheric blockages caused by shifting air masses. One of the most iconic orbital telescopes ever launched is the Hubble Space Telescope.
Since its commissioning in 1990, Hubble has redefined our understanding of space by sending dazzling images that stun and inspire humanity. In this article, you’ll discover the history of the Hubble, where it is located, some fun facts, and Hubble’s stunning observatory images of all time.
The Hubble Telescope is the first observatory aid launched to orbit the earth. It can record ultraviolet and almost infrared light waves. It was officially launched into space on April 24, 1990, aboard a Discovery space vehicle. The Hubble was named after Edwin Hubble, a famous American astronaut. Scientists estimate that the project cost a whopping $1.5 billion.
Space Shuttle Discovery Landing
Source: Kennedy Space Centre
The telescope has a length of 13.2 m (43.5 ft), a diameter of 4.2 m (14 ft), and weighs approximately 12,246 kg (27,000 pounds). Generally, it has the same weight and size as a normal school bus.
An image of The Hubble Space Telescope
An image of the Hubble is space courtesy of California Science Center:
Where Is the Hubble Located?
Currently, the Hubble Space Telescope is in outer space, within an altitude range of 547-600 km above the surface of the earth, and inclined at an angle of 28.5 degrees to the equator. It makes at least 15 orbits every day, moving at a speed of 8 km per second. Incredibly, the Hubble is so fast as to travel across the United States of America in just 10 minutes.
Video of the Hubble in full observation
The Hubble’s Accessories and How It Works
The telescope has two large solar panels and six Nickel-Hydrogen batteries equivalent to about 20 car batteries. The solar panels trap the sun’s rays and convert them into electrical energy which is stored in the batteries. As a result, the satellite’s observatory is never hampered even when sun rays are partially blocked by the earth.
For effective orientation of its observatory, the spacecraft has four reaction wheels, each weighing about 45 kg. When one wheel turns in one direction, the telescope reacts by turning in the opposite direction by adopting a targeted schedule manipulated from the control center. Thus, the telescope’s main computer uses the targeted schedule promptly to determine how the spacecraft identifies its new observatory target.
The Hubble has six high-precision gyroscopes that control its direction and motion. Three gyroscopes are actively in operation while the other three act as a backup when others fail. Even when five fail, the Hubble can still operate on a single gyroscope. The telescope also has three sensors that help in locking into position during observation. In addition, it has a primary and secondary optical lens.
All commands and control data are transmitted to the observatory through the control center via NASA’S high-gain antennas. Every scientific data relayed to the control center is forwarded to the Space Telescope Institute for processing, interpretation, and archiving.
Does the Hubble Work Alone?
Certainly not! Behind Hubble’s incredible observatory images is a team of specialists who work round the clock to ensure the telescope is in sound health, under control, and works efficiently. The Hubble team consists of scientists, engineers, and technical operators located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The team uses sophisticated equipment and software to direct the telescope to cosmic targets, identify malfunctions, and monitor its orbit around the earth.
The Hubble is still the best optical observatory currently in orbit around the earth. It transmits about 10-15 gigabytes of scientific images and data every week. Since its inception three decades ago, the telescope has observed more than 25,000 features in space. This includes distant galaxies and shocking discoveries such as black holes where stars are believed to originate.
Below are some of Hubble’s stunning observations and discoveries:
Hubble discovered the merging of galaxies in a cosmic dance and recorded jets emerging from massive black holes. The elegance episode also captured the dark matter that links galaxies in space.
Milky Way Marvels
Hubble helped scientists to unlock incredible milky way wonders such as the birth of stars, death of stars, and baby planets.
The Dynamic Solar System
Through the telescope, scientists discovered that that the solar system is dynamic and riddled with constant changes. The observatory recorded storms building around planets, hidden moons, and passing visitors across the universe.
Other Shocking Discoveries:
- Redefining the age of the universe
- Discovering Pluto’s two moons; Hydra and Nix
- Incredible image of comet Borisov Falling apart
- Observation on the pillars of creation
- Discovery of the farthest known active comet
Hubble’s discovery videos courtesy of NASA:
Hubble space images courtesy of space.com:
Spectacular Hubble pictures by space.com:
Since its launch in 1990, NASA has conducted five scheduled missions into space to repair and upgrade the Hubble’s operation.
Here is a highlight of the space missions:
1993: Mission 1
The telescope developed a slight malfunction on its mirrors that relayed blurred images. The astronauts replaced the first planetary camera, solar panels, gyroscopes, computers, and other accessories.
1997: Mission 2
The telescope developed an abrupt error on its infrared camera which shortened its lifespan. Astronauts replaced it and installed a new imaging spectrograph.
1999: Mission 3A
Three of its six gyroscopes malfunctioned, prompting for a replacement. Astronauts replaced all the gyroscopes and the fine guide sensor
2002: Mission 3B
Astronauts replaced the solar arrays, installed advanced survey cameras, and infrared cameras.
2009: Mission 4
This was the last servicing mission on the Hubble. The astronauts repaired critical data units and installed a third wide-field camera as well as a cosmic spectrograph.
The Hubble Space Telescope is no doubt, a man-made device that has spearheaded profound discoveries and huge astronomic research. Although it was thought to live beyond 2030, its incredible operation has not been without technical hiccups. Currently, it is on safe mode as NASA technicians seek to resolve an onboard computer malfunction on the telescope.