A Day in Astronomy: The Hubble Space Telescope is Launched

Image (Credit): The Hubble Space Telescope orbits with Earth in the background. (NASA)

On this day in 1990, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope. We do not think of the shuttles anymore as we discuss reusable rockets, but the shuttles were the first reusable spacecraft-launching vehicles.

After some initial problems, the Hubble became a critical component in the exploration of the universe. Some of the telescope’s amazing images are shown below.

It is still going strong, even though its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is the more powerful of the two. Launched in late 2021, the JWST has expanded on some of Hubble’s earlier work. The pair are a powerful team.

Here are a few interesting facts about Hubble:

  • Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations since its mission began in 1990.
  • Astronomers using Hubble data have published more than 19,000 scientific papers, making it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built. Those papers have been cited in other papers over 1.1 million times.
  • Hubble has no thrusters. To change angles, it uses Newton’s third law by spinning its wheels in the opposite direction. It turns at about the speed of a minute hand on a clock, taking 15 minutes to turn 90 degrees.
  • Hubble has peered back into the very distant past, to locations more than 13.4 billion light-years from Earth.
  • Hubble’s mirror is about 7.9 feet (2.4 m) across. It was so finely polished that if you scaled it to be the diameter of the Earth, you would not find a bump more than 6 inches (15 cm) tall.
Image (Credit): The Carina Nebula. (NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Image (Credit): NGC 3603. (NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration)
Image (Credit): The Horsehead Nebula, otherwise known as Barnard 33. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))