On April 25, 1990, NASA placed the Hubble Space Telescope into low orbit around Earth. It wasn’t the first telescope placed into orbit, but it’s been one of the longest-lasting and most versatile, providing gorgeous images of space that have furthered our understanding of astronomy and introduced future generations to the magic of the universe.
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The technology used in the telescope isn’t anything terribly groundbreaking, since it’s based on the kind of stuff that scientists and thinkers were dreaming up for centuries, and the initial design was conceived in the 1940s. It was properly put on paper in the 1970s, built in the 1980s, and launched in the 1990s.
It features a 7'10" mirror that ends up making the telescope itself about the size of a bus. It has different instruments that observe the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum to capture incredible images of both earth and deep space, and it has a resolution ten times better than that of ground-based observatories. It’s solar powered and orbits the earth once every 97 minutes.
And we can credit the Hubble Space Telescope with tons of discoveries, including:
- Determining the rate of expansion of the universe
- A comet’s collision with Jupiter
- The first direct look at the surface of Pluto
- Viewing distant galaxies, gas clouds, and black holes
- Seeing billions of years into the universe’s past
- Reappearance of a supernova
- Mass and size of the Milky Way
And tons more. This has been a crucial tool to defining the universe around us and helping us plumb the depths of science’s limits.