Intel Science Talent Search Winner: Mr. Bush, please save Hubble.
Then-President Bush: Is Hubble in trouble?
Oh my, yes, for those of you who don’t know, Hubble is, in fact, in trouble once again. To set the mood, I’ve got one of the best songs about it: Ray LaMontagne‘s
For the uninitiated, Hubble — imaged here from the Space Shuttle Atlantis — is not only the telescope that changed the Universe, it is the single most scientifically productive piece of equipment of all time. That’s right, as Neil de Grasse Tyson wrote,
More research papers have been published using its data than have ever been published for any other scientific instrument in any discipline.
Originally designed to measure the motion of and distances to galaxies and determine the expansion rate of the Universe, Hubble did so with unprecedented precision. Before Hubble — no joke — people argued whether the Hubble constant was fifty km/s/Mpc, with an age approaching 20 billion years, or one hundred km/s/Mpc, with an age closer to 10 billion years.
Now? Thanks to Hubble (and Wendy Freedman, leader of the Hubble Key Project), it might be 70, and it might be 75, but it isn’t far off from either of those. And as for age, it might be 13.5 billion years old, or it might be 14 billion years old, but it’s almost definitely not outside that range. And beyond that, through ultra-distant supernovae measurements, it provided the first major piece of evidence for dark energy, or the observation that the Universe isn’t just expanding, but accelerating! It also captured all of the images in the remainder of this post — including the beautiful interacting galaxies Arp 147 above — and is the first and only optical (i.e., visible light) telescope in space.
Hubble, amazingly, has taken some of the best, highest-resolution pictures of everything ranging from planets in our own solar system under the most spectacular conditions,
to dusty regions of space where new stars are forming as we speak,
to clusters of galaxies and the beautiful effect of gravitational lensing, which are the great arcs of background galaxies (often coming in multiple images) that you see below,
And the science is still coming in! Just last month, it was announced that there’s a new value for the Hubble constant with an error of only 3.3% (the lowest ever), and that one major alternative to dark energy is ruled out, all thanks to Hubble still going strong after 21 years. Part of why it’s lasted so long is that it’s in low-Earth orbit, so we can service it to repair or upgrade it, and have done so four times.
Well, Hubble’s replacement, the embattled James Webb, is an infrared telescope. And while it will be amazing and an improvement over Hubble for some things, there are many things that can only be done in the optical, and we are still learning from them and have plenty more we’d like to do.
Facebook to the rescue? There’s a group calling themselves The Official Petition to Save the Hubble Space Telescope, and their description is as follows:
Guys, we are presented with a terrible, imposing threat. This threat concerns the loss of the Hubble Space Telescope! Join if you are passionate about this group and hate all the infrared bastards out there.
They’ve got loads of photos and videos from Hubble, as well as some smack-talk for the other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum!
Regardless of how it turns out, we should all appreciate Hubble for all it’s done and all it continues to do, and if it were up to me, I would save the most coveted telescope in all of human history for as long as it’s still the best optical telescope ever created! (And it still is!)