This week, on the 24th of April, the academic community celebrated 25 years since the Hubble Telescope was launched into orbit.
NASA marked the occasion by releasing a new composite space image obtained from photos taken by Hubble with two on board cameras of a piece of universe some 20000 light-years away from Earth. It can be described as the largest fireworks display ever caught on camera.
It shows a gas cloud in the Carina constellation, known as Gum 29, which functions like a star nursery, with almost 3000 young stars grouped together in what is called the Westerlund 2 cluster.
These newly formed stars shown in red in the picture are 1 to 2 million years old and haven’t yet reached the temperatures of the fully matured stars that are dispersed throughout the picture, displayed in various shades of blue and orange. By contrast with these older stars, the young stars are tightly packed and haven’t had time to roam around space under the influence of gravity.
The aging of the Hubble Telescope was more organic than you might think, making it feel less like a simple tool and more like a member of the research team.
Even its first days of operation gave scientists the sensation they were looking at a being that was seeing the world for the first time, but having troubles dealing with the information received. What the researchers saw was that all the pictures sent by Hubble were no better than those from telescopes on Earth. It was soon found that the curvature on the reflecting side of the mirror was wrong, which meant that the light reflected by the edge of the mirror focused on a different point compared to the light reflected by its center. The pictures of the closer, brighter objects would have been usable with just a small impact on sharpness, but for those far away celestial bodies that had only a faint light, the image quality was useless.
Like a scientist said in an interview when speaking affectionately about the telescope, it seemed that Hubble needed glasses. And so in 1993, during the first servicing space missions, a Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement system was installed to bring the images of the Faint Object Camera, Faint Object Spectrograph and Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph more into focus.
Already in this first mission a second version of the Wide Field and Planetary Camera was installed instead of the original one and the High Speed Photometer was removed altogether because of the lack of space inside the telescope for all the components and the new COSTAR system.
Since then, 4 more servicing mission have taken place and all initial instruments were changed with new and better equipment which each had the correcting surfaces built-in so they could cancel the aberration of the primary mirror.
In the end, in 2009, during mission number five, the COSTAR system, as it was no longer needed, was removed and is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in USA.
It seems that the passing of time was kind with Hubble Space Telescope, so much so that Kathryn Flanagan, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, said that “Hubble is today at the peak of its performance, with her most productive years ahead.”
Image Source: newsledge
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