How has the Hubble Telescope Changed Astronomy?

Science, technology, and most importantly astronomers have constantly been trying to push themselves to study and learn more about the universe and what comes with it. This combination gave birth to perhaps the biggest human achievement in terms of astronomy back in the 60s, the Hubble telescope. The Hubble telescope has been the only source of information for astronomists, which has helped revolutionize human knowledge of the cosmos. Despite the fact that it was tragically flawed but underwent some heroic fixes as well. It helps us understand the universe as we see it today and why we exist on a small planet while there are nearly 100 billion galaxies afloat throughout creation.

Aiming High

Since the invention of the first telescope back in 1609, astronomers have been very inquisitive about the unsteady atmosphere of the earth. At the time, they were not able to understand the earth’s act of distorting starlight from cosmic objects. As a result, in 1923 rocket pioneers conceptualized a plan that involved building a telescope and launching it into space

This telescope would avoid atmospheric turbulence and the astronomers on earth would be able to gather information and data via the signals sent. In 1496, just when the Hale telescope was near becoming a reality, Lyman Spitzer an influential American astronomer penned down a story that examined the advantages and disadvantages of the space-based telescope for the first time. 

Over the years, many people have questioned the practicality and benefits of using the Hubble telescope. And the fact of the matter is that even after 25 years of its launch, it has helped and still helps astronomers on earth view the universe at wavelengths of light that are otherwise impossible. This makes the Hubble telescope, the most powerful telescope ever created. As time passed, astronomers realized that there is a need for a space-based telescope. As a result, studies were initiated and NASA proposed a plan, which could not be approved due to a shortage of funds. Then in the mid-1970s, the astronomers attacked again and this time they managed to get the project approved by the senate successfully. Although Hubble died in 1953 but his legacy continues with the space observatory.

How to build a space telescope?

NASA initiated the process of building the Hubble as soon as the funds were approved. Initially, the Hubble was abbreviated in the mid-1980s. Furthermore, NASA contracted different companies for the production of different components of the telescope. For instance, Lockheed was contracted for the spacecraft construction and Eastman Kodak was handed the responsibility of building a backup mirror. 

As it happens with gigantic products like the Hubble, the project ran into some troubles as the polishing of the primary mirror became a lengthy exercise. However, leaving the clashes and troubles behind, the team at NASA started putting together the components and made preparations to launch the first generalized space observatory in the spring of 1900.

The launch went well and soon the world especially the astronomers saw a telescope they had built way over the budget floating above the earth. All was happy in the Hubble’s telescope until a shock hit everyone. The images sent by the telescope indicated a serious flaw with the optics that could have been easily avoided. Something was wrong with the Hubble’s mirror that was causing it to return foggy images. 

Upon investigation, it was found that the company’s null corrector was assembled incorrectly and the workers had misread the simple tests that could have otherwise identified the problem. All of a sudden, what was being assumed as the biggest human achievement of its time, turn into a huge flop. 

Heroic Missions

While the hopes were down, NASA’s struggle was not over. It has established a schedule of servicing the Hubble with plans of swapping, tweaking, and upgrading instruments over time. As a result, the first servicing mission was being planned and carried out involving the addition of corrective optics enabling the telescope to see better. As soon as the scientists were able to correct the optics, the Hubble was able to return some very impressive shots of the universe. Then, it discovered a very unique occurrence in the solar system. 

It was a comet named shoemaker-Levy 9. Hubble’s first summer data batch accounted for key observations that were comparatively more than all the telescopes that came before it. In 1995, astronomer Jeff Hester of Arizona State University led a team that helped create the most iconic image captured using the Hubble, a picture of the Eagle Nebula in Serpens. 

Hubble’s amazing legacy

The depth of Hubble’s data helped answer many questions. It had touched on every area of astrophysics. For instance, since the early 1920s, astronomers have always been arguing the rate of expansion and what it means. The data also helped explain the Hubble constant while two factions argued on very different conclusions derived from the data. In addition to that, Hubble played an instrumental role in the discovery and analysis of a distant supernova by two research teams. 

The finding showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This leads to the explanation of dark energy, a force that is speeding the universal expansion. It goes without saying that Hubble played a key role in discovering and exploring yet another mysterious aspect of the universe, dark matter. Although very little is known about the matter but even scientists like Stephen Hawkings believed that it existed, although it is invisible.

Successors

In 2009, astronauts flew to Hubble using a space shuttle. It was the fifth-time the Hubble was being serviced. New parts and components were installed and it was working perfectly well. However, it is said that the Hubble will not be fixed again. In 2020, the Hubble turned 30 years old and still captures beautiful pictures of objects in space. Although NASA is working on another telescope called the James Webb Space telescope but it is neither going to be as big as the Hubble nor will orbit the earth. Instead, it will orbit the sun in a spot on the other side of the moon. Moreover, it will see a different kind of light than the light Hubble is able to see. 

Till today, there is no direct replacement for Hubble. The reason is that near-term space telescopes do not duplicate Hubble’s wavelength coverage and instead concentrate on the further infrared bands. These bands are used to study the high redshift and low-temperature objects that are older and generally farther away in the universe. Moreover, these wavelengths are also impossible to study from the ground, which justified the need for another space-based telescope. Although some large-ground base telescopes can image the same wavelengths as the Hubble but none of them can match the Hubble’s excellent resolution. 

Final Word

Concluding, the amount of data and number of discoveries shared by Hubble is simply astonishing. Even though plans are being made to introduce a new space telescope but only time will tell whether it’s possible. Until then, let’s just hope that the Hubble continues its legacy and helps humans discover the unknown side of the universe.