Launch date: April 24, 1990
Launch vehicle: space shuttle Discovery
Time to orbit Earth: about 95 minutes
Orbital speed: 27,200 km/h (16,900 mph)
Altitude: 600 km (370 miles)
First servicing mission: Space shuttle Endeavour, STS-61, December 1993
Final servicing mission: Space shuttle Atlantis, STS-124, May 2009
The Hubble Space Telescope is the best optical telescope currently in orbit around Earth. The Hubble was also the first scientific project in space that was designed to be serviced and upgraded on a regular basis by astronauts.
The Hubble is in orbit right now, making history by sending back around 10 to 15 gigabytes of images and data to astronomers every day. So far, the Hubble has examined over 25,000 features in space, including distant galaxies, black holes and nebulas where stars are born. The images sent back from the Hubble are beautifully amazing and give us a peek deep into the universe. But even more importantly, each new observation has the potential to support or contradict popular astronomical theories.
When the Hubble was launched, it had a slight defect in one of its mirrors, which meant that the first images sent back from the telescope were more blurry than expected. But since the Hubble was designed to be upgraded and serviced by astronauts, the first servicing mission, which took place in 1993 on space shuttle Endeavour, added some corrective lenses as well as a more powerful camera. Then the Hubble could send back views of the stars that were better than any ever seen from Earth—primarily because it was outside the Earth's atmosphere, which distorts our view of space. (The atmosphere is what makes stars twinkle.)
One of the most amazing areas of research undertaken by Hubble scientists has been the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HDF) project. Because the HDF project examines objects billions of light years away, the light the Hubble captures is from events that happened billions of years ago. So when the Hubble captures images from far away into the deep universe, it's also like looking back in time. Studies of the HDF images have uncovered many surprising new discoveries, such as the occurrence of a "stellar baby boom" shortly after the Big Bang which peaked around three billion years later. Most of the stars that exist today were born during this stellar population explosion. The HDF research has also supported the theory that the universe looks the same in all directions.
In addition to the things we have learned from the Hubble about the nature of deep space and the history and development of the universe, we have also found out more about our own cosmic neighborhood. The Hubble data revealed the existence of oxygen on Europa. Plus, the Hubble relayed photos of a volcanic eruption from Io, spotted storms on Neptune, Jupiter and Mars, captured images of Saturn and Jupiter's auroras and even gave a weather report for the Pathfinder landing on Mars. Outside our galaxy, the Hubble data confirmed the existence of black holes and sent back data on the phenomena of star death, quasars and more. Images from the Hubble have also revealed that flat disks of dust and gases, thought to be possible precursors to planet formation, encircle many developing stars.
The Science Center's Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope on display in the gallery is a 1/5 scale model. It was donated to us by Lockheed Corporation.