Hubble turns 32: Here are five things you didn’t know about NASA’s Space Telescope

He’s bigger than many of his fans, and for fans even bigger than him, the feeling of “watching the boy grow up” is inevitable: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will turn 32 on Monday (25), having begun its 547-kilometre (km) orbit around Earth on April 25, 1990 – the day after it was launched by the defunct Space Shuttle program.

The US Space Agency recently released a ceremonial photo that it made (which you can see below, in a special video), showing a group of galaxies and proving that despite the end of its mission, our “old man” still has enough capacity. In order to reach the same rhythm of celebration, the digital look He also remembers five pieces of information about the universe that we were only able to discover because of Hubble:

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How old are we really

Before Hubble, astronomers had difficulty determining the true age of the universe. In the past, estimates have ranged from 10 billion years to 20 billion years, and let’s face it, any difference in the “billion” place is pretty large (relatively speaking: 2.5 billion heartbeats equivalent… for your entire life, from birth to old age).

With the advent of the space telescope, we were able to observe very specific types of stars – called “Cepheids,” classified as yellow giants or giant giants 100 to 30,000 times brighter than the Sun – with greater accuracy.

It was this brightness that gave us the greatest accuracy in the age of the universe: 13.78 billion years, a number calculated by the time this brightness reached Earth.

We are increasing, not decreasing

The constant question for any astronomer is: Do we know how we got started?the great explosionHow will we end? One of the most popular theories is the big crisis Basically, if the Big Bang was the one that threw everything in all directions, then the Great Crisis would be its opposite, in which all celestial bodies are eventually drawn towards a common point, crushing each other at an overwhelming rate.

Well, we still don’t know if this theory – or even another one – will ever be confirmed, but Hubble, this 32-year-old “young man”, gave us a different idea, proving that the universe is only still expanding, but that it was done quickly Bigger than we thought: 74 km/sec/Mpc – or, to put it bluntly, seventy-four kilometers per second per megaparsec (one megaparsec equals one thousand parsecs, or 308,567,758,127,995,860 km).

Another curiosity, by the way: This number is enshrined in the so-called “Hubble Law”, attributed to the American astronomer Edwin Hubble … whose nickname serves as a designation for NASA’s long-lived space telescope.

American astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, after the telescope turned 32 (Photo: Johann Hagmeyer, Camera Images Carmel / Free Reproduction)

Discover the outer planets

Before the Hubble telescope, we had no idea there were other planets outside our solar system. Obviously, hypotheses have always been formulated within this possibility, but only using a space telescope have we been able to observe other stars with planetary bodies moving in their orbits.

NASA recently confirmed the existence of more than 5,000 exoplanets – from about 8000 candidates – adding to our assertions by just over 30 years ago. Of course, not all of them were discovered by Hubble ( Transiting a satellite to survey the outer planets – or “TESS” – today he is most responsible for new discoveries), but suppose that if digital look He has a page dedicated to the exoplanets, which we owe to Hubble.

He has a serious flaw that almost made him a joke

Anyone who sees our Hubble news today has no idea how hard it was to conceive and put the project out there. First, its launch was postponed due to mission disaster. the challengerA fatal accident that saw the Space Shuttle (Challenger OV-099) explode one minute after launch, killing all seven astronauts working on it, in 1986.

Later, already in space, NASA realized from the first images taken by Hubble that one of its telescopic mirrors – by the way, the main mirror – was “too polished”, deviating from the necessary specifications. Physically, the change was minimal (about one-fiftieth of the thickness of a hair). Practically speaking, this was more than enough to blur any image he produced.

The problem made it the cover of many international magazines – even Newsweek called it the “$1.5 billion fiasco”, in reference to the cost of its development and launch. The fix wouldn’t come until 1993, when a group of astronauts managed to install a tool known as “COSTAR,” which consists of a series of small mirrors that correct the failure of the main mirror with each image recording.

You can use Hubble (if you have patience)

Although Hubble is owned by NASA, over the course of 32 years it has been used by many astronomers, from various agencies, organizations and even independent specialists. This is because, in space, there are no restrictions on ownership, because information from the universe is legally classified as a “global interest”.

In practice, this means that anyone can use Hubble, regardless of their competence, knowledge, or education. But calm down: There is a caveat that tends to wipe out much of your will—patience.

That’s because Hubble is one of the most important pieces of astronomical observation in history, so something like this, even if “free” in use, has ridiculous competition in the queue of proposals sent to its operators.

Here’s how it works: A special panel reviews monitoring proposals based on prior studies – you identify an area of ​​research that you think Hubble will help unlock. This panel evaluates the proposal and determines its viability and priority, after which you can reach to use the telescope. It’s a bit like Final Course Work (TCC) for some college graduates: you hand an “introductory topic” to the advisor, he approves it, and you really begin your research.

It sounds simple, but it’s actually much worse than that: every year, hundreds, possibly thousands, of astronomers submit proposals to the committee. And less than a fifth – or 20% of those applications – achieve their goal, with dates set by mutual agreement between study candidates and the steering committee.

It’s not enough that you don’t even choose when you will use it, those who are not will have to accept early access to the Hubble image collection. Telescope images become public a year after they are recorded, but some candidates make it to the archives before then if they demonstrate the need to do so.

Hubble’s future: another 32 years ahead?

Hubble, with 32 years of history, obviously has so many curiosities that we could take an entire day to list them here. But just like every worker who has devoted more than half his life (or, in his case, his whole life) to a particular job, he also deserves retirement.

The James Webb Space Telescope, touted as its spiritual successor and launched on December 25, 2021, is already in position in space, making final adjustments to start work in earnest. Technologically, it is far superior to Hubble, which will allow us to make more detailed observations of the universe.

Hubble is left with a 32-year gradual halt in activities: it will continue to operate because it was designed for it, but little by little, it will receive less attention from its operators, until one day it settles – deservedly, after a life dedicated to expanding our knowledge of what is “out there”.

Is this you? Want to list some of the curiosities we left behind? Tell us your favorites in the comments, or through our social channels on Facebook, Twitteror YouTube, Instagram or TikTok.

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