The Hubble Marks 33rd Year in Orbit: The Telescope That Changed Our View of the Universe

25th Apr 2023
The Hubble Marks 33rd Year in Orbit: The Telescope That Changed Our View of the Universe

This month marks the 33rd anniversary of the launch of the iconic Hubble Space Telescope. On 24th April, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Earth with a very special payload: the Hubble Space Telescope, one of humanity’s greatest scientific instruments. This joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency marked a significant milestone in the field of astronomy.

Hubble space telescope
Credit: NASA/Smithsonian/Lockheed

It’s been over three decades, and the mission continues to amaze the world with its discoveries about our universe. Now, you have a ringside seat to watch the entire universe evolve and change in front of you.

The Launch That Revolutionised Our Understanding of the Cosmos

The idea for the Hubble Space Telescope can be traced back to the early 1940s, when American astronomer Lyman Spitzer proposed the concept of placing a telescope in space. From there, it could avoid the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, which obscure ground-based astronomers’ view of celestial objects by absorbing or distorting the light rays from them.

A telescope stationed in outer space is entirely above the atmosphere, however, and it creates images of much greater brightness, clarity, and detail than do ground-based telescopes with comparable optics. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the technology and funding necessary to build such a telescope became available.

Developed by NASA and the European Space Agency, the Hubble Space Telescope was equipped with a suite of sophisticated instruments, including cameras, spectrographs, and other detectors, that allowed astronomers to study the universe in unprecedented detail.

Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth image
Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth. Credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI

The Hubble Space Telescope was initially scheduled to be launched in 1986, but the launch was delayed until 1990 due to technical issues and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

The Best of Hubble’s Discoveries

Equipped with a suite of instruments designed to capture images across the electromagnetic spectrum, the Hubble has captured some of the most stunning and scientifically significant images of the universe. NASA says that the observatory has taken a whooping 1.6 million observations of nearly 52,000 stellar targets since its launch.

 Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter
This latest image of Jupiter, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 25 August 2020.
Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.

Hubble has looked back into our universe’s distant past to locations dating back more than 13.7 billion light-years from Earth, discovered moons around Pluto, watched a comet crash into Jupiter, found stellar nurseries in the Milky Way that could someday become planetary systems, probed supermassive black holes and has enlightened the world about the universe. All, in just 33 years.

 Hubble Space Telescope image
Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

One of the most iconic images captured by the Hubble is the “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula. This image, captured in 1995, shows towering columns of gas and dust where new stars are forming. The Hubble has also captured images of distant galaxies, including the “Hubble Deep Field” image, which revealed thousands of galaxies in a tiny patch of sky.

Pillars of Creation pic made by Hubble
Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

New Hubble Findings

The telescope continues to deliver. Astronomers are celebrating its launch anniversary with a mesmerising photo of NGC 1333, a star-forming region. Located 960-light years away, the nebula is located in the Perseus molecular cloud.

NGC 1333 region image by Hubble
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, K. Stapelfeldt

What it shows is “an effervescent cauldron of glowing gases and pitch-black dust stirred up and blown around by several hundred newly forming stars embedded within the dark cloud,” NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) noted.

Wrapping Up

The Hubble Space Telescope remains one of the most important tools in astronomy today, and its impact on our understanding of the universe cannot be overstated. Each pixel helps unlock another scientific mystery.

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