Science & Technology

Astronomy: 30 years ago the Hubble telescope was launched into space

The telescope has been the eyes of astrinomers above the Earth's atmosphere

Published: Thursday 16 January 2020

When the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic was still around, the Berlin Wall was standing and, back home, Indian quiz masters got a great question ask. It will be three decades on April 24, 2020; in this time the HST has fundamentally changed the way we understand the universe.

the telescope was named after Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer who had first propounded the theory of an expanding universe. The HST helped give astronomers precision on calculating the rate of the present expansion also known as the Hubble Constant. This helped to accurately calculate the age of the universe to 13.8 billion years.

Hubble was launched as astronomers wanted a view of the universe not fogged by the Earth's atmosphere. It was put there, as Nasa says, “above the distortion of the atmosphere, far above rain clouds and light pollution”. Hubble has an unobstructed view of the universe. This “large school bus” telescope with the weight of “two elephants” was their eye in the sky.

Over the years the HST has made more than a million observations. It was the first to record the appearance of developing galaxies throughout cosmic time. Its infrared sensors have recorded the birth of thousands of stars. It recorded that hubs of most galaxies containing enormous black holes and measured the atmospheric concentration of extrasolar planets. Using gravitational lensing it has allowed astronomers to map the distribution of dark matter in space.

This space telescope has taken over a million observation and has led to 16,000 peer-reviewed papers which been cited over 800,000 times in research papers.

During its operational history, the telescope has been serviced six times, rectifying faults and updating the equipment. The HST is expected to work for another 10-20 years. James Webb Space Telescope, which slated to be launched in 2021 will be the successor to the HST.

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