12 March 2015

The Hubble: 25 years of photonics for a better cosmos



It seems only yesterday that the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope (HST) launched. But in reality, it was April 24, 1990. Since then, it’s been consistently the most visible science story in the mass media – there’s something about gorgeous astrophotography that engages the public. But behind the beautiful photos, there are important discoveries the Hubble has enabled. Learning about dark energy and the rate of the expansion of the universe, the first direct image of a planet outside our solar system, and the Hubble Deep Field Shot (see below), the most magnified picture of a spot of the sky ever taken with optical light -- all are among HST’s long list of accomplishments. 

http://spie.org/images/Graphics/Newsroom/NewsArticleImages/HSTdeepfield.jpg
The Deep Field Shot (NASA). Click to enlarge.
                                           
Ganymede's auroral belts, colored blue, overlaid on a Galileo orbiter image of the moon.
This week, we heard the latest staggering revelation – the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. It may have more water than all of Earth’s oceans. In a fascinating investigation, German scientist Joachim Saur proposed observing the moon’s aurorae (in image at left), which are controlled by magnetic fields, to determine whether an underground ocean was creating “magnetic friction” with Jupiter’s magnetic field.

The Hubble’s 25 years are the focus of a celebration including special events in various locations and online. This weekend at SXSW in Austin, TX, featured events include a NASA exhibit booth, a NASA social event, and panels featuring expert discussions on Hubble’s contributions to science. An online “playoff bracket” (March Madness, anyone?) allows the public to vote on matchups of their favorite Hubble photographs, with the “winner” to be announced on April 6. 

On March 26, Astronaut Mike Massimino will be participating in the Exploring Space Lecture Series at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. New Hubble images will be installed in the museum in April. For more information visit: http://airandspace.si.edu/.

On March 28, an anniversary event will be held at the Visitor Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Speakers will include Hubble scientist Jennifer Wiseman and Hubble Servicing Mission 4 photographer Michael Soluri. 

In addition to the public events, there is a new series of educational videos created by STScI. Those videos can be found online at: http://hubble25th.org/

While there’s not yet a target date for decommissioning the HST, it is hoped that observations will continue for several more years, even after it has been joined by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), with a planned launch in 2018. John Mather, chief scientist for the JWST and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, called the Hubble “beautiful and powerful” in this SPIE interview about the JWST.
                                                                                                 
There are more than 800 papers in the SPIE Digital Library related to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, MD, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, DC.