The Hubble Telescope Pictures Space Through Time

By: James William Smith

It has been seventeen years since the launch of the Hubble Telescope. The cost to the United States and the European Union was originally projected at about 500 million dollars. The program's costs are now estimated to be over 5 billion dollars. The Hubble's costs were criticized prior to its launch and the early problems with the telescope's imaging system further hurt the public's initial perception of the project.

However, the problems of the Hubble mission have long been corrected. In addition, the early critics were wrong as the cost of the project has provided an incredible return on money spent. The ongoing Hubble mission has provided a source of information to the world's scientific community that could not have been obtained through any telescope on Earth. Indeed, over the last decade, the Hubble Telescope has delivered hundreds of amazing pictures from the farthest reaches of the Universe.

One reason that the cost of the Hubble is so high is that it is the only telescope ever designed to be serviced in orbit 330 miles above the Earth by astronauts. To date, there have been four servicing missions, with a fifth and final mission event planned for September 2008. In the launch of the fifth space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, seven astronauts are scheduled to repair and improve the observatory's capabilities. The mission will make the telescope operational through the year 2013.

Of course, the reason for the final mission and the extension of the Hubble Telescope's capability is the incredible scientific success of the project over the last fifteen years. Hubble does not travel to stars, planets, and galaxies. It snaps pictures of them as it orbits the Earth. The pictures that the Hubble Telescope has stored and transmitted to Earth have resolved some long standing problems in astronomy. It has also created questions that require scientists to produce new theories of explanation.

Consider that the Hubble Telescope has looked through space to provide pictures of regions where gas, dust, and other materials combined to form stars thousands of years ago. These star forming areas are called nebula by scientists. The remaining materials after a star is born are believed to further expand and form planets. Pictures provided by the Hubble Telescope have given scientists an improved understanding of the processes inside a nebula. Hubble has provided incredible pictures from space of the Ant Nebula, Eskimo Nebula, Cats Eye Nebula, Cone Nebula, Perfect Storm Nebula and Triffid Nebula.

The Hubble Telescope has also greatly expanded scientists understanding of black holes. Scientists have theorized that black holes have a deep and profound connection with galaxies. Work conducted with the Hubble indicates that black holes are probably common to the centers of all galaxies. Hubble has also established that the masses of the nuclear black holes and properties of the galaxies are closely related.

Hubble is responsible for the dating of the age of the Universe at 12-14 billion years. This is a much closer date than the 10 to 20 billion year range that scientists estimated prior to the Hubble launch.

While Hubble helped to refine estimates of the age of the Universe, it also cast doubt on theories about its future. Astronomers used the telescope to observe distant supernovae and uncovered evidence that, far from decelerating under the influence of gravity, the expansion of the Universe may in fact be accelerating. This acceleration was later measured more accurately by other ground-based and space-based telescopes which confirmed Hubble's finding, but the cause of this acceleration is currently very poorly understood.

The ultimate legacy of Hubble may well be the Hubble Deep Field and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images. The images of distant galaxies, around ten billion years ago, were a result of Hubble's unmatched sensitivity at visible wavelengths to create images. These images have generated many scientific papers and provided a new window into the development of the Universe.

Hubble also teamed up with a fleet of X-ray, gamma-ray, and visible-light observatories in a quest to analyze the sources of gamma-ray bursts. Gamma-ray bursts may represent the most powerful explosions in the Universe since the Big Bang. Before 1997 astronomers were stumped: although they had observed more than 2,000 "bursts," they couldn't determine whether these fireballs occurred in our galaxy or at remote distances. Hubble images showed clearly that the bursts actually reside in far away galaxies rife with star formation.

The Hubble has given us pictures of merging galaxies, asteroids, new galaxies, the rings around Uranus, and other planets. It has given scientists insights into star formation and star death. The Hubble Deep Field has produced pictures of distant galaxies nearly ten billion years ago. Hubble has produced information on Black Holes, Gamma-Ray bursts, as well as other scientific mysteries of the Universe.

To date, the Hubble's contribution to astronomy and science has been astounding. The understanding of the origins and functions of the Universe increase with each picture.

In 2008, astronauts will install upgraded equipment which will would boost the telescope's observing capability by at least a factor of 10. Pictures from the Hubble Telescope will continue until the year 2013.

After 2013, the James Webb Telescope will replace the Hubble in space. Until then, scientists and astronomers throughout the world should continue to be amazed by the pictures transmitted by the Hubble Telescope as it continues to picture space through time.

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