It’s impossible not to celebrate these days the incredible achievements of Hubble’s Space Telescope – which has just turned 25. A joint ESA/NASA project, launched into Earth’s orbit on April, 24th, 1990, the space telescope has dramatically changed our knowledge of the universe. How? Simply by making possible observations otherwise not feasible from Earth, like being able to detect ultraviolet and infrared emissions that are blocked by the atmosphere and to receive unblurred, neat images.
First imagined by the astronomer Lyman Spitzer Jr. in 1946, Hubble took three decades and a lot of endeavours to be finally turned into reality, and its starts were all but easy. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 did not help either in making it faster.
And even the launch into space was not the end of its troubles. “Because of a measuring error during a testing process that was hurried to save money, that big mirror wound up misshapen, polished four-millionths of an inch too flat, leaving the telescope with blurry vision. It was the kind of mistake, known as a spherical aberration, that an amateur astronomer might make, and it was a handful of astronomers who first recognized the flaw — to the disbelief and then the dismay of the engineers and contractors working for NASA. For bright objects, astronomers could correct for the flaw with image processing software. But for the fainter parts of the universe, the Hubble needed glasses.” (NY Times, April, 24, 2015).
Additional Shuttle missions, and days of spacewalks, were necessary to fix these issues and make Hubble operative. But the results were magnificent, and well worth the efforts.
Among those achievements, the detection of early-Universe galaxies only after 600 million years after the Big Bang detected in 2010 in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and, in 2008, one of the first direct snapshots of an exoplanet, Fomalhaut b, orbiting its parent star.
A good gallery of pictures related to the construction and the launch of Hubble itself is available at this link, while for some of Hubble’s amazing photos I certainly recommend Hubble’s official website.
In order to properly celebrate this amazing success, ESA/Hubble are going to run a series of projects and events to involve both the scientific community and public in the celebrations. Calendar and details are available at the website Hubble25, or by using the #Hubble25.