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Through The Looking Glass


 

 

 

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Credit: STS-82 Crew, STScI, NASA (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap021124.html)

 

Along with the hopefully informative articles on this blog, you also have the opportunity to view some of the spectacular imagery which chronicles our exploration of space. Some of it was captured by astronauts during their spacewalks, or by space probes like Voyager 1 and 2 on their voyage into uncharted territories of deep space. Today, we’re going to talk about another source of dazzling images that have inspired the public for decades. We’re going to talk about the Hubble Space Telescope.

Launched in 1990, it has captured more that 45 terabytes of data in total, giving a tremendous insight into the mysteries of the universe, shooting objects as close as the Moon or the most distant galaxies which we wouldn’t know about otherwise. In 1975, the European Space Agency began developing a project with NASA that would eventually become the Hubble. Luckily, this coincided with the birth of the Space Shuttle, which made it possible to deliver the telescope into space. It was named so in the honor of American astronomer Edwin Hubble, responsible for discovering that the universe extended beyond the confines of Milky Way. It took 1.5 billion dollars to put it into space, but there would be many additional costs required to run it, both expected and unexpected.

Hubble got off to a rough start. There was a flaw in its mirror, which was detected by scientists when they were about to analyze the images provided by Hubble. The images were extremely blurry, almost useless. The mirror’s major defect was caused by a manufacturing error, and it took NASA three years to prepare a repair mission. In 1993, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, carrying a crew of seven, approached Hubble, and over the next 5 days, during numerous spacewalks, repairs were made, and the crew installed two new cameras in addition. In December 1993, the first images from Hubble were sent to Earth, and they were astonishing. Over the years, Hubble would be serviced a total of 5 times, as batteries and gyroscopes needed to be replaced. It is expected to continue its mission up until 2014, when it will be replaced by the James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.

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Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/4545825726/sizes/o/in/photostream/)

Hubble puts up some amazing stats. With length of 13.2 meters, weight of 11.110 kilograms and maximum diameter of 14.2 meters, it also sends about 120 gigabytes of data every week. It uses the Sun as its primary energy source, by absorbing light with two 25-foot solar panels, and a combined power of 2.800 watts. The diameter of its primary mirror is 2.4 meters, and it weighs 828 kilograms, while the diameter of the secondary mirror is 0.3 meters, and it weighs 12.3 kilograms.

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Credit: NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University) (http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2003/34/image/a/)

Orbiting the Earth for more than 2 decades, the Hubble space telescope has provided scientists with deeper understanding of the planets, the Solar System, galaxy and the entire universe. It’s crowning achievements cannot fit inside a single article, but we’ll name some of them: creating a 3-D map of the mysterious dark matter, discovering Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, helping determine how the universe expands, discovering that every major galaxy has a black hole in its center, and also helping determine the age of the universe.

 

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