Two of the most recognizable symbols of science are the telescope and the microscope. Everyone, whether interested in astronomy or not, has heard of the Hubble Space Telescope, but how many of us really know the significance of its contribution to science, astronomy in particular? Here are some facts about the Hubble Telescope that could light a spark in your imagination, and create an interest in discovering more about the stars.
The Hubble has dazzled us for nearly two decades with its astonishing images and exciting discoveries. The giant observatory, physically located on a spacecraft, has taken nearly 750,000 images over 17 years of operation in space. Originally launched into space on April 25, 1990, it’s been used by a large number of astronomers to explore the deepest reaches of the universe, as it orbits around the earth at the unimaginable speed of 5 miles per second.
The Space Telescope Science Institute has been charged with processing all of Hubble’s images. The Hubble was the first, and remains the flagship of, NASA’s Great Observatories program. It’s an asset to the entire nation, however there have been some issues. In June of the year it was launched, scientists identified an issue with Hubble’s primary mirror. The problem was quickly resolved, however other problems have surfaced throughout Hubble’s life.
Still, the Hubble Space Telescope, which first opened our eyes and imaginations to an awe-inspiring cosmos of colliding galaxies and star births, remains a valuable asset to astronomy even 20 years later. It remains so valuable that NASA continues to send missions to conduct upgrades and repairs on the telescope to this day, and future improvements are already being planned.
Despite the fact that the Hubble Space Telescope has not ceased to operate since 1990 and appears to be going strong, plans are being made to replace it. So many astronomers and amateurs have benefited from the Hubble, and more discoveries will continue to be made. Yet, all good things do eventually come to an end, and such will be the case with the Hubble. It’s not something that should upset you though, as something better is on the way.
Even though owning a space telescope like the Hubble is beyond the reach of most people, you can explore the stars from your own backyard with the purchase of an amateur telescope. When exploring your options, remember that aperture (light gathering capacity), quality, and accuracy of the optics are the most important attributes of a telescope, while portability and cost are its most important design criteria. Whether you ultimately choose to buy a reflecting or a refracting telescope, the most popular types, you’re sure to spend countless hours exploring the night sky.