Hooray for Hubble!

Hubble Has Gotten Results

Hubble Space Telescope's exquisite view of the planetary nebula NGC 2818. Our Sun may look similar to this as it approaches its old age some 5 billion years from now. Courtesy STScI.

So, twenty years ago today, Hubble Space Telescope went to space. Since then, it has been churning out great results almost continuously — even in spite of its well-publicized early problems.  I say “results” because pictures aren’t the only things Hubble cranks out. It’s a data machine — observing the universe in some wavelengths of ultraviolet light, optical light, and infrared. Naturally, our eyes can’t see much beyond the optical window we evolved to see, so either the ultraviolet and infrared come down as data (spectra or graphs or plots) or they get “visualized” into images that show us what objects and events in space would look like if we COULD see those wavelengths.

Now, if you go to the Hubble Space Telescope web site, you’ll see a lot of pretty pictures. I encourage you to browse through it and see what Hubble has shown us throughout the past two decades.  As you read and browse the images, you’ll see the word “unprecedented” used a lot. It’s not hyperbole. Before Hubble was launched, there was NO way to get the kind of high-resolution images and data it delivers. That’s largely because ground-based telescopes have had to contend with the atmospheric blurring that smears images of dim distant objects. Until recently, ground-based telescopes also didn’t have access to high-resolution instruments. Today, that game has changed and many ground-based observatories use adaptive optics and high-res instruments to get ‘near-Hubble‘ resolution. In some cases, they give Hubble a run for its money!  In that sense of competition and technological advancement, Hubble has also been a game-changer.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what Hubble cranks out next — images OR data.  And, I’m incredibly impressed that we live in a time when we can log in, click on a web site, and see images from our solar system, our galaxy, and the most distant reaches of the universe. It’s a golden age of exploration!  Here’s to the telescope, and the thousands of people right here on Earth who make it work, use it for discovery, and share it that sense of awe and wonder they get from Hubble’s images with the rest of us!


  1. ccp

    Yes, there are many, many good ways that web pages use Hubble images (and to be fair, images from many space-based and ground-based observatories to bring the wonder of space to everybody. Kids love this stuff!

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