On April 24th, 1990, humanity and their understanding of their place in the universe, was forever changed. On that day, 30 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.
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For the last three decades, silently, 568 km (353 miles) above the Earth’s surface, the Hubble Space Telescope has been staring into the void. It’s been gathering photons, that many eons ago, were either produced or reflected by various astronomical points of interest.
These things include, but are not limited to, moons, asteroids, galaxies, nebula, planets, and stars. Hubble’s portfolio is impressive. The orbiting space telescope has managed to gather almost 1.5 million images of the universe around us.
Hubble Just Had it’s 30th Birthday
NASA is celebrating Hubble’s 30th birthday with a commemorative picture.
It’s most recent masterpiece, which was taken earlier this year, showcases stars being born in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This cloud is actually a small galaxy that is orbiting our own. The stars that can been seen in the middle of the photograph are at least 10 times larger than the sun.
Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star
Hubble has single-handedly transformed astronomy. You see, when you’re on Earth’s surface, anything you see in the sky is distorted by movements in the upper atmosphere.
This is why the stars ‘twinkle’. As the light from those distant objects passes through the 100 km (62 miles) of air above you, their image gets swirled about and shifted in random, unpredictable ways. Having a point of view that is outside Earth’s turbulent atmosphere completely eliminates this distorting effect. Because of this, Hubble has been able to peer deeply into space and time.
Deeper in Space = Deeper in Time
Remember, the further you look into space, the further you are looking into the past. Light’s speed is constant. Its 186,282.4 miles per second. That is very, very fast. But if you really think about it, at least on cosmic scales, it’s actually quiet slow. The closest star to us, called Proxima Centauri, is so far away that even at the speed of light, it would take over 4 years to get there.
Think about that. When you look up in the night sky and you see all those thousands and thousands of stars. Even the absolute closest one is over 4 light years away. What this means is, you are not seeing that star as it currently is. You are seeing that star as it was, 4 years ago.
Having an understanding of that really puts into perspective Hubble’s significance. It allowed us, for the first time, to be able to accurately gauge our place in the universe, in both time and space. It’s a reminder of how small we are, and more importantly, its a reminder of how briefly we have existed and just how precious our moment on this planet is.