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Fascinating facts about the Hubble Telescope

Updated on November 28, 2015
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis, flying STS-125, HST Servicing Mission 4.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis, flying STS-125, HST Servicing Mission 4. | Source

The Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Telescope, named after the Astronomer Edwin Hubble, was launched into low Earth orbit 1990 and gas provided astronomers with a view of the universe that had never been seen before.

The telescope has given us some amazing images, which are sharper than any that has been seen before because the telescope is not hindered by the Earth’s atmosphere, or light pollution and these images have led to many breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of the cosmos.

Although not the first space telescopes, Hubble is one of the largest and the only one that was designed to be serviced in space by astronauts, which was fortunate, because when it was first launched in 1990, it was discovered that the main mirror of the telescope had been ground incorrectly and astronauts had to fix the problem in 1993.

The Hubble Telescope has continued in operation since then and it has provided huge numbers of high quality images of both distant galaxies and stars and our own solar system. It does have a limited life, though, and currently it is expected to remain in operation until approximately 2020. Hubble’s successor, the James Web space telescope, is expected to be launched in 2018.

In the meantime, here are nine interesting facts about the Hubble Telescope and some of the amazing pictures that it has captured.

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1. Hubble is colour blind

The Hubble Telescope doesn't actually ‘see’ colour, all the images are captured in grey scale. That’s not to say that the colours are added by crayon though! It’s a bit more scientific than that. The images that we see published are usually a combination two or more black and white images which are the enhanced with colour to bring out the detail.

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Eagle Nebula’s ‘Pillars of Creation’
Eagle Nebula’s ‘Pillars of Creation’ | Source

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2. Hubble is big, but not as big as was originally planned

Hubble is just less than sixteen meters long and it weighs eleven tonnes. The Original plans, though, were for the telescope to be bigger. It was proposed that the main mirror would be 3m in diameter, but this was reduced to 2.4m to save costs.

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3. It doesn’t use much more power than an electric kettle

Despite its size, the Hubble Telescope uses far less power than one might think. It gets its power from two solar panels and it uses around only 2,800 watts. The average household electric kettle is rated at 2,200 watts.

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The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and companion galaxy
The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and companion galaxy | Source

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Light path in a Cassegrain reflector telescope
Light path in a Cassegrain reflector telescope | Source

4. Hubble is a Cassegrain reflector telescope

The Hubble Telescope is one of a type known as a Cassegrain reflector telescope. Light that enters the telescope is first reflected off a primary, parabolic mirror onto a secondary, hyperbolic mirror, which reflects the light onto the telescope’s electronic instruments.

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Nebula with a giant star at its centre
Nebula with a giant star at its centre | Source

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Edwin Hubble 1889 - 1953
Edwin Hubble 1889 - 1953 | Source

5. Who was Hubble?

The Hubble Telescope is named after the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, whose work in the 1920’s proved conclusively for the first time, that more galaxies existed beyond our own Milky Way.

He also paved the way for the Big Bang theory, with his work on how light is being affected by the expansion of the universe, in the same way that sound is affected by the Doppler Effect.

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Natural-colour image of Jupiter
Natural-colour image of Jupiter | Source

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6. The Hubble Telescope is moving pretty fast

The Hubble Telescope orbits the earth at an altitude of over 350 miles (The International Space Station orbits at an average of 267 miles). It travels at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour and it can complete a full orbit of the Earth in just over an hour and a half.

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Hubble: Imaging Space and Time
Hubble: Imaging Space and Time

This is the definitive illustrated book on Hubble - the most successful telescope ever constructed, which changed the face of space, reveals the most provocative and unprecedented new images of the universe, gathered by Hubble over its nearly 20-year lifetime.

 

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7. Hubble is the only space telescope to have been serviced by astronauts

Hubble was always designed to be serviced and upgraded in space by astronauts. The telescope was launched in 1990, by the Space shuttle Discovery and it was subsequently visited five times by Space Shuttle Missions in order that astronauts could carry out repairs and upgrades.

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Infrared view of the Horsehead Nebula
Infrared view of the Horsehead Nebula | Source

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8. How much did the Hubble Telescope cost?

As ever, budget is always an issue with any space exploration project so, here are some figures. The initial construction costs were budgeted to be in the region of US$ 400 million, but by the time it was launched, construction costs had reached US$ 2.5 billion. Add to that the ongoing costs of service and repair and the estimated total costs, as of 2010, were US$ 10 billion.

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Galaxies, galaxies everywhere
Galaxies, galaxies everywhere | Source

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9. Hubble’s orbit is decaying

Don’t look now, but the Hubble Telescope is on its way back to Earth again. Well, in about five years or so, anyway. The telescope orbits in the very upper reaches of the atmosphere, which means that is experiencing drag and its orbit is slowly decaying. Originally, it was envisaged that the telescope would be recovered by the space shuttle and returned to Earth. However, since that is no longer possible since the shuttle fleet has been decommissioned, Hubble is now expected re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime between 2019 and 2032. When it does, and if re-entry is completely uncontrolled, parts of the telescope are expected to survive and impact on the surface of the Earth.

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Hubble's Canvas
Hubble's Canvas

This series of six 30-minute documentaries reveals the artistry of space anomalies and transcends the boundaries of time to reveal the science behind some of the most incredible phenomena ever seen by man, so far!

 

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James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) | Source

What is to come after Hubble?

While the Hubble Telescope brought us amazing images of space, the next generation of space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will bring us even more and allow scientists to study objects at the far reaches of the universe. The launch of the new telescope is scheduled for October 2018 and it will be located 932,000 miles from the Earth. Perhaps it will unlock some new secrets of the universe, or perhaps it will simply raise even more questions.

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent, thank you for this fun fact filled hub on the Hubble. I learned a great deal.

    • Artois52 profile image
      Author

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      Thanks Eric. I'm enjoying my own little voyage of discovery here on the topic.

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