Happy Birthday Hubble!Posted: April 24, 2010
Twenty years ago today the Hubble Space Telescope was launched. Putting a telescope in space gets rid of all the distortions that come from our atmosphere, and means the images it takes are much sharper than equivalent instruments on Earth and, after a few initial teething problems, Hubble has demonstrated this magnificently, not just for astronomers but for the general public as well, through the excellent Hubble Heritage Project which turns data into art. Hubble has maintained its world-leading position because, unlike the new generation of space telescopes such as Herschel, it is close enough to get regular servicing missions from the Space Shuttle fleet.
In celebration of its 20th birthday today I thought I’d post one of my favorite Hubble images, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.
This immensely deep image is of a tiny area of the sky in the Fornax constellation – its only a tenth the diameter of the full moon – and it took Hubble nearly a million seconds (though not all at once) to make it. Part of the observations were taken over Christmas 2003/2004 so maybe the astronomers wanted to leave it doing something useful while they went off to celebrate! Nearly everything you can see in this image is a distant galaxy, there are roughly 10,000 visible. More than anything else it was this image, and the Deep Field that preceeded it that really brought home to me how vast the Universe is, and how much there is for us to learn about it. I find it simply amazing.
If you want to take part in research using data taken with Hubble, the hundreds of thousands of archive images have just been incorporated into Galaxy Zoo for people like you to classify. From everything we’ve seen from the telescope so far, who knows what you might find!
Picture Credits: NASA