November 13, 2019

TopStars and the Hubble Space Telescope Heritage.

Now that the final servicing mission to the Hubble is winding down, it’s an excellent chance to reflect on the heritage of the Space Telescope, as well as announce an exciting program connected to the Hubble starting this year.

I first heard about the Hubble Top Stars program through Western Governors’ University (WGU rocks!) where I’m currently enrolled in my quest for a Bachelor’s Science Teaching degree. Top Stars is run by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and is sponsored by NASA. Top Stars is looking for submissions on the best examples of using Hubble for inspiring science, technology, or engineering in education. The winners will receive a high quality Hubble print, official recognition and teleconferencing opportunities with NASA engineers. The submissions will go through several rounds before the final 10 “Gold star” winners will be announced, and final submission deadline is January 2nd, 2010. The first deadline is coming right up; May 29th, 2009! See the guidelines for more info, and be creative!


Video: A Crucial Repair.

Need some ideas? Read on…

Since it was first put in orbit nearly two decades ago, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has done nothing short of revolutionize the field of astronomy. No kidding, a whole new generation of astronomy PhDs have cut their teeth using Hubble’s optics. And what’s more, HST has captured the public’s imagination. It’s come back from the brink so many times, and everybody loves an underdog. Its images have made their way into popular culture, appearing in television shows such as the Big Bang Theory and Star Trek: Voyager. Folks who could care less about space exploration easily recognize Hubble images, and they may well be some of the defining pictures from our era.

To put Hubble’s achievements into perspective, consider this; in 1989, we knew nothing of the Cosmological Constant and Dark Energy; rates of the expansion of the universe carried the caveat of “±10%” or greater, and galactic mass black holes were but an unobserved idea. We had never observed a comet slam into a planet, and globular clusters were impossibly older than the universe they (and we) inhabit. In other words, astronomers knew little with any definite certainty. We were still in a way, like Percival Lowell, straining to spy fleeting canals on Mars during seconds of good seeing. Closer to home, mass market digital cameras had yet to exist, along with reliable rechargeable batteries that didn’t weigh a ton. Like that shinny new Iphone? Thank Hubble. Grunge rock had yet to save us from hair metal (OK that last one had nothing to do with HST!)

In short, we’ve undergone a revolution in astronomy in our lifetimes, and Hubble has allowed us to pin down constraints of “standard candles” such as Cepheid variables and Extra-galactic supernovae. Astronomy, in short, is cool and respectable once again.

Our top picks? Without being too redundant, here are some crucial snapshots in the Hubble photo album;

1. The Deep Field: The first Hubble Deep Field told us something very intimate about ourselves, where we came from in space and time, and where we’re headed. It also demonstrated what this versatile instrument could really do.

2. Eta Carinae: Astronomers always new that Eta Carinae was peculiar. Hubble showed us a massive, bloated star in the midst of its death-throes.

3. Shoe-maker Levy-9: Hubble was on-hand just in time for the impact of Shoemaker Levy-9 into Jupiter. It also demonstrated the vitality of having an orbital eye on station. What if a comet or asteroid was head our way? Or how about a nearby supernova or other once in a lifetime events? Anybody else read Rendezvous with Rama?

4. The Eagle Nebula : Another classic that tugs at the heart strings… also the subject of this weeks’ Astro-challenge of the Week.

5. The Cat’s Eye Nebula: For pure aesthetics and cool screensaver appeal, you just can’t beat the Cat’s Eye Nebula as pictured by Hubble (see above). Hubble shows us this planetary nebula as only it can; with faint tendrils of wispy gas.

6. The Best unknown Hubble Image you’ve never seen; the photo below is not your ordinary gravitational lens; it’s the first (and only!) shot of a five star lens! The lensing object is a galaxy cluster known as SDSS J1004+4112. This massive grouping is bending the light of a distant quasar into five distinct points.

There you have it; our short list of crucial Hubble picks. If your favorite didn’t make the cut, please let us know! Hopefully, we helped some sixth grader win Top Stars…

A Hubble repair mission update: After six space walks in six days, repairs of Hubble have proceeded at an awesome pace. Hubble now has new batteries, a new heat shroud, and an array of new cameras, including a new WFPC3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. ACS was opened and repaired in orbit, something that it was never intended for. The COSTAR corrective optics have been removed after almost 20 years of service, after being initially installed to repair spherical aberration in the primary mirror. Some of the shots during the last spacewalk Monday were the most stunning, as the astronauts were also shooting for an upcoming IMAX film about the repair. All in all, very few snags were run into, and the whole repair made for a good run on NASA TV. In his closing words on the last EVA, astronaut John Grunsfeld stated, “Hubble isn’t just a satellite; it’s about man’s quest for knowledge in the universe.” He also appropriately thanked, among others, Lyman Spitzer, in many ways the father of Hubble.  Also, STS-125 set another record; the first Tweet from space! Astronauts will say farewell to Hubble for what is very probably the last time on Tuesday the 19th, for a planned landing at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, May 22nd at 11:41 EDT. It’ll be fascinating to see what final images Hubble will present us will in the years to come…stay tuned!

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