The Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), launched in 1990, is a colossal space telescope some 2.4 meters in diameter and with a focal length over 57 meters long. The Hubble Telescope is one of the largest telescopes ever built, and has become probably the most well-known telescope in the world. Capable of photographing and imaging both deep-space and solar bodies and occurrences, data collected by the HST has unearthed several keystone discoveries and has gone a great deal towards improving mankind’s understanding of the Final Frontier.
Originally conceived as part of a joint operation between NASA (the North American Space Administration) and the European Space Agency (ESA) way back in 1979, the HST was beset by problems from the get-go. Everything that could get in the way of the telescope’s launch seemed to do so, delays being caused by everything from funding troubles to the Challenger disaster. Even after she was lofted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 1990 it was discovered that the company responsible for making the lenses had ground one of the principle lenses incorrectly, requiring another manned mission to replace and repair the defective parts.
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. However, it is unlikely that the JWST will go half as far towards advancing astronomy’s public profile and working its way into peoples’ hearts as Hubble has.
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