The first day of the 235th American Astronomical Society conference (January 5) was dedicated to the upcoming anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope that was launched on April 24, 1990. In the course of its operations in low Earth orbit, Hubble has not only made scientific discoveries, but has also introduced the earthlings to the distant worlds of the Universe.
«These pictures, they really have redefined the universe for public, and they speak to public at visceral and emotional level that is far beyond the scientific understanding,» said Ray Villard, a fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Scientists say many of Hubble’s achievements have been a real surprise. Take exoplanets, for example. None had been detected at the time of the telescope’s launch in 1990. Now, scientists know of 4,000 such distant worlds, and Hubble is a key tool for studying and identifying them. Last year’s New Horizons flyby of a Kuiper Belt object now dubbed Arrokoth was made possible by Hubble.
However, the fate of the telescope could have been different. After its launch, astronomers were dismayed to see that all of its images were blurry. Engineers found the problem in the telescope’s mirror, and fortunately, the defect was eliminated. In 1993, the crew of NASA’s Endeavour spacecraft corrected the optics during five long spacewalks. The final servicing mission was carried out in 2009.
«There were a few glitches in late 2018 and early 2019, but overall, Hubble is doing well,» said Jennifer Wiseman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The gyros that allow the telescope to point at targets are lasting well, as are the batteries that run the machinery and scientific instruments.
The telescope was named after outstanding American astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble.