On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit.
“No matter what Hubble reveals — planets, dense star fields, colorful interstellar nebulae, deadly black holes, graceful colliding galaxies, the large-scale structure of the Universe — each image establishes your own private vista on the cosmos.”- Neil deGrasse Tyson
Friday, April 24 marks the 25thanniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In its quarter-century of operation, Hubble has broadened our understanding of the cosmos like no instrument before it. To mark the occasion, we spoke with Department of Astrophysics Curator Dr. Michael Shara who worked with the Hubble mission during his time at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Dr. Shara and his collaborators have logged over 1000 hours using the telescope for their work on star clusters, novae and supernovae.
What did your work with the Hubble Space Telescope entail?
I joined the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI) in 1982, eight years before the launch of Hubble. I was the project manager for the Guide Star Catalog that is used to target and calibrate the Hubble, and a few years after the telescope was launched, I was responsible for overseeing the peer review committees, which looked over proposals from researchers who wanted to use the telescope.
What was that experience like?
It was amazing to be able to see things coming in astronomy years before they were published. Reading hundreds of proposals and sitting in on deliberations about them was spectacular to watch.
How does it feel to look back on the launch of Hubble, twenty-five years out?
This anniversary is a joyous thing. Watching the deployment of Hubble in 1990 was an amazing, heart-stopping experience.
Hubble’s mission didn’t start out exactly as planned, though, did it?
The first three years were bumpy. When word came back that spherical aberration was preventing Hubble from focusing properly, I think everyone working on the project had the same terrible feeling in the pit of their stomachs. The mission to repair it in 1993 was even more tense than the initial launch, but it was wildly successful, and for the last 22 years, the story of Hubble has been one triumph after another.
What are some things that stand out in Hubble’s history?
It’s hard to pick one, because Hubble has just been a discovery machine. It’s the most productive telescope in history, with thousands of refereed papers published using Hubble data so far. One that stands out is the discovery of dark energy by groups using the Hubble. That was a totally unexpected discovery that essentially lobbed a hand grenade into the world of modern physics.
We also learned much about our own solar system. For example, we saw a comet smash into Jupiter, which helped us understand how frequently these events occur, and what an important role they have played in the development of our solar system.
What makes Hubble such a “discovery machine?”
Part of it is the Hubble Archives. Every image, every spectrum, and every measurement that Hubble takes is stored by STSI. That data is proprietary to the researchers who first gathered it for one year. After that period, the information is free and open to other researchers, as well as the general public. That means there are many astronomers using data in ways the people who gathered it could not have foreseen, like using images that looked for a phenomenon known as microlensing in galaxies to find large populations of novae in those same galaxies.
How has this telescope changed since it was first deployed?
Every few years, Hubble has been upgraded, so it is a much more capable instrument today than when it was launched. The cameras are much more sensitive now, and the infrared and ultraviolet capabilities are vastly better than those available just a few years ago.
After 25 years, how much life does Hubble have left?
Well, the instruments, computers, and gyroscopes on Hubble are doing really well. It’s conceivable that it will be useful until 2021 or 2022. After that, because we don’t have a shuttle program to boost it into a higher orbit, Hubble’s orbit will decay to the point where it finally falls to Earth. But the body of data that Hubble has collected is unmatched, and that information will be put to use for decades to come, and maybe even a century from now.
Happy birthday, Hubble! The celebrated space telescope turns 25 on Friday. To mark the anniversary, NASA set the instrument loose to gaze at some fireworks – that is, space fireworks. Hubble captured the spectacular photos of stars being born in “Westerlund 2,” a cluster of 3,000 stars that is in Gum 29, which NASA describes as a “raucous stellar breeding ground” in the constellation Carina.
Did NASA Just Accidentally Produce A Warp Bubble? EmDrive Could Lead To Warp Drive
NASA scientists working on a project called EmDrive have accidentally stumbled upon something that will send science fiction junkies into a frenzy. The possibility of a real-life warp drive has been placed on the table thanks to readings that indicate the EmDrive’s resonance chamber sent beams traveling faster than the speed of light, which would be considered warp speed. Researchers have considered the possibility of traveling faster than the speed of light, but until the recent NASA study, the feat had never been achieved.
Mysterious Universe notes that the NASA scientists are buzzing about the discovery on the NASA Spaceflight Forums. The forums are a place for information regarding the engineering aspects of the space flight and NASA. Therefore, the discovery that laser beams may have just breached the speed of light sent the page into discussions on the long-term implications of warp speed bubbles and the possibly of future warp speed travel.
First, the researchers note that though beams that were shot into the EmDrive were recorded at speeds faster than light, there is still one more study that must be performed to determine with certainty that the light speed barrier was broken. Scientists note that the beams must be shot through the EmDrive in a vacuum environment. This will ensure that the effect was not a result of atmospheric heating.
“I don’t think we can call this length contraction (even though it might look like it) for sure until the same results are in repeated in vacuum.”
Commenters note that the whole finding was one big accident and that researchers did not even realize that the EmDrive was replicating a well-known physicist’s theory of warp bubbles.
“That’s the big surprise. This signature (the interference pattern) on the EmDrive looks just like what a warp bubble looks like. And the math behind the warp bubble apparently matches the interference pattern found in the EmDrive. Seems to have been an accidental connection. They were wondering where this ‘thrust’ might be coming from. One scientists proposed that maybe it’s a warp of the spacetime foam, which is causing the thrust.”
Physicist Miguel Alcubierre is the one who came up with the concept of a warp bubble that would warp spacetime around an object. The idea is that a warp bubble could be created in which a stationary spaceship was placed inside. The bubble in front of the ship would contract spacetime while the spacetime expands behind it. However, the idea was never proven as feasible until the recent EmDrive finding.Some on the NASA Spacelight forums are looking to the possibility of time travel should the warp speed be achieved in the vacuum setting. They note that the space travelers would not be crushed by the intense speeds because Alcubierre’s model would place the ship in a stationary position.
“Don’t forget that the ship is not really moving at relativistic speeds: space is. Consequently, you could take a trip to Alpha Centauri in 2 days (or less with more power… who knows?), turn your ship around and observe the Earth as it was four years ago (as light has taken four years to get there – slow coach!). You could then observe Alpha Centauri as it is “now”, and how people on the Earth will see it in four years. With this type of technology, it would be possible to predict when locally past events are going to be observable from the point of view of the Earth (or any other point that the light from such events had not yet reached). For example, a ship 1 light-day out from the Earth in the right place could witness a supernova before the Earth does and then be able to return to the Earth almost instantly and tell astronomers about the incoming light wave so that they could prepare to observe it.”
Happy 25 years to the Hubble Space Telescope! The largest orbital telescope ever launched was deployed on April 25, 1990, during the mission of STS-31 Discovery. Launch occurred the day prior, on 24 April.
Although the telescope’s optics were flawed upon arrival into orbit, Servicing Mission 1 installed corrective lenses that allowed the telescope to return some of the most spectacular imagery ever returned from space.
The telescope is expected to be operational until at least the mid 2020′s.