Hubble's Cosmic Comeback: NASA Releases New Images

Scientists can elect to forego the waiting period but, the research world being as competitive as it is, that rarely happens.

6. Hubble's masterpieces are museum pieces.

Not only has Hubble penetrated Hollywood, it has also found its way into the rarefied world of the fine arts.

Science aside, many of Hubble's images are astoundingly beautiful. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore displayed a number of Hubble's iconic images last year in the exhibit "Mapping the Cosmos: Images from the Hubble Space Telescope."

More than 20 images were on display at the museum.

"It is really gratifying to see these pictures, constructed from Hubble's science data, among the beautiful, classical art in the Walters Art Museum," Zoltan Levay, senior image processor at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said at the time. "I hope visitors can enjoy the images as photographs of the cosmic landscapes, but also as artistic abstractions from nature."

7. It has more than 3 billion miles under its belt.

Every 96 minutes, Hubble makes one orbit around Earth. In its lifetime, it has circled Earth more than 100,000 times, traveling about 5 miles per second. In all, the space telescope has traveled more than 3 billion miles, which is about the distance from Earth to Pluto.

How Do Scientists Score Time with Hubble?

8. Scientists have to apply for QT with the HST.

Everyone wants a piece of the Hubble, but it only has 3,000 available hours each year. To divvy up the time, a panel of internationally renowned scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute reviews proposals submitted by teams of scientists around the world.

"The proposals are ranked according to, in their opinion, what is the most challenging, the most important, what science can be gained from these proposals," said Cheryl Gundy, the institute's deputy news manager. "The director of the institute makes the final decision, parceling out the Hubble's time."

Some teams may only get a couple of minutes with the telescope, but even a window of time that small is highly coveted.

9. As far as telescopes go, Hubble is only average-sized.

It looks large when we see the school-bus sized telescope next to the floating astronauts. But NASA scientists say it's actually not that big for a telescope.

Hubble's primary mirror is about 8 feet in diameter, much smaller than the 34-foot mirror in the world's largest telescope, the Great Canary Telescope on the island of La Palma, part of the Canary Islands. The mirror for the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, is about 25 feet.

"It's very average," said Malcolm Niedner, the Hubble deputy senior project scientist. "I'd love to have it in my backyard but it's not a large telescope."

But Hubble makes up for its size with incredible optics and design. Most importantly, Niedner said, its placement outside Earth's atmosphere enables it to see greater distances with greater clarity than any other telescope.

Hubble's Golden Years

10. Hubble is preparing to hand the reins over to its successor.

The massive Hubble makeover is expected to give the space telescope about five more years. If all goes according to plan, it should retire just as astronauts launch the heir to NASA's space telescope throne: The James Webb Space Telescope.

Slated for launch in 2014, the replacement telescope will have a mirror 21.3 feet in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court.

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