Twenty-nine years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope launched into orbit, beginning one of NASA’s greatest missions that completely altered the way our civilization views the Cosmos. The first of NASA’s Great Observatories, Hubble launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center, marking the most significant advancement in astronomy since Galileo invented the telescope in 1610.
Its namesake honors renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble, being the first optical telescope outside of the Earth’s atmosphere where it remains operational to this day. Hubble’s perspective offers an unobstructed view of the universe clear of clouds, light pollution, and other particles within the atmosphere that distort ground based observations. The craft itself weighs 27,000 pounds and measures 13.3 meters long, the length of a school bus. Equipped with a 2.4 meter mirror and four main instruments capable of viewing in ultraviolet and infrared, Hubble has captured extremely high resolution images of planets, asteroids, and other intriguing anomalies in our Solar System, while also examining distant objects and phenomena, its findings often leading to scientific breakthroughs in astronomy and astrophysics, reimagining humanity’s understanding of The Outer Space.
Hubble has made over 1.3 million observations, the data of which has been published in over 15,000 scientific papers. Some of its most notable revelations include evidence of the presence of dark matter constituting 27% of the entire universe, the confirmation that supermassive black holes exist at the center of galaxies including our own, and that the universe continues to expand at an accelerated rate influenced by a mysterious force called dark energy.
NASA expects to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, in March 2021, continuing mankind’s traditional attempt to quench its curiosity as we dive deeper and further into the stars.
Hen 2-104, the magnificent “Crab Nebula.” Located thousands of light-years away from Earth, astronomers captured this colorful image to celebrate Hubble’s 29th anniversary in Earth’s orbit. Credit: NASA