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Facts About the Hubble Space Telescope

Named after the famed American astronomer Edwin P Hubble, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a colossal space telescope some 2.4 meters in diameter and with a focal length over 57 meters long. Launched in 1990, it is capable of photographing and imaging both deep-space and solar bodies and occurrences, and orbits the Earth every 96 minutes, 575 km above the Earth's surface.

Coordinated by a team of astronomers, scientists and technicians at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD and The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, MD, the Hubble’s images are all recorded and analyzed by a team of experts who work under contract from NASA and the European Space Agency, the two agencies who developed and lofted the satellite.

While not particularly large by Earth-based telescope standards, the Hubble Space Telescope still weighs in at a hefty 24,500lbs. Hubble has a spectral range that reaches from the ultraviolet, through the visible (to which our eyes are sensitive), and into the near-infrared spectrums, allowing it to map and detect objects that ground-based astronomers wouldn’t have a chance with.

The HST’s station in lower Earth orbit outside the Earth’s atmosphere gives it an unparalleled ability to take images with next to no background light interference. The Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field image, a composite photograph of a region of space situated inside the constellation Fornax and taken between September 24, 2003 and January 16, 2004, constitutes the most detailed and far-reaching visible-light image ever compiled, looking back almost 13 billion years. It has also taken famous images of the formation of stars, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 colliding with Jupiter, and the dwarf planets of Pluto and Eris.

Since the Hubble Space Telescopes’ launch over 4,000 papers have been written based on data sent back by the telescope. Anyone can apply for time on Hubble, from rank amateurs through to the heads of the most prestigious astronomical organizations, and each slot of time is granted on a case-by-case basis. At present, the ratio of applications for telescope time to slots available is somewhere around 9-1.

The HST’s life is slowly drawing to a close, as its orbit decays and it begins re-entry – an event expected to occur between 2010 and 2032. Plans and construction are already afoot for a replacement – the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in June 2013. The final mission to maintain and update the telescope is scheduled for launch in May 2009.

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