25 years of HST

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, launched 24 April 1990. Operating in the optical, ultraviolet and near-infrared wavebands, HST’s low-earth orbit gives it unprecedented image quality outside of the “blurring” of the Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. HST has revolutionised our view of the universe and brought us some of the highest resolution and most spectacular images from our solar system, our galaxy and the distant universe. The real success of HST has been its amazing public reach, bringing astronomy to people across the globe.

HST got off to a rather shaky start, however. There were problems with the shape of Hubble’s 2.4-m primary lens and the first images sent back to earth with disappointingly blurry!  The first HST serving mission in December 1993 installed lenses to correct the optical aberration.

Two “raw” HST images of the galaxy M100, taken on 27 November 1993 (left) and 31 december 1993 (right) after the first serving mission that corrected the mirror. (Credit: NASA)

A total of 5  servicing missions between 1993 and 2009 were carried out, replacing failed equipment and installing new instruments. With the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, further HST servicing missions are no longer possible, but NASA will continue to maintain HST for as long a they can.

Some of HST’s key science outcomes have included studying weather patterns on other planets in our Solar System, studying the atmospheres of exoplanets, peering into star forming regions, studying interacting and merging galaxies, measuring the expansion rate of the universe, and views of the most distance universe 13.3 billion years ago.

Each year HST releases a special birthday image.  For its 25th anniversary, this year’s image is of the stellar cluster and star forming region Westerlund 2 in the Gum 19 nebula.  The central star cluster contains about 3000 stars. The image combines visible light from an image taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys with near-infrared images from the Wide Field Camera 3.   The red colours represent regions dominated by hydrogen, while the bluish-green hues are predominantly oxygen.  (You can also watch a 3D fly through here).

Celebrating 25 years of HST, this year’s anniversary image is of the young star forming cluster Westerlund 2, imaged with the Wide Field Camera 3. (Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team)

Three great articles were published in The Conversation this week which we encourage you to read:

For more information about HST and its 25 year history, see:

[Sarah Maddison]

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