Hubble bubble toil and trouble! OK give me a break here! ‘Where-ether’ is your sense of humour? Yes Hubble, but not the bewitching nattering of 3 old crones no. The one, the only, HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE!
Oh yes that settler amongst the stars, the orbiter of our earth, the spy of the solar system. OK calm DOWN! Waffling on ceased! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty shall we? The Hubble telescope was launched 20 years ago in 1990 to reveal all the secrets of space. The Hubble has shown us many things. Well it has shown researchers many things. With the help of the Hubble we discovered the age of the universe. Planet earth currently resides inside a vacuum that is a whopping 13.7 billion years old, and as of yet no-one has needed to replace the hoover bag! 13.7billion years of planetary movement, star twinkling and various orbiting of large balls of gas. Well, I say it must be just about ready to curl up under the covers after that shift! One wonders that if the universe is as infinite as we are told but is only 13.7 billion years old then what was there (wherever that is) before the big bang that created our nice little slice of infinity? Surely if the universe is infinite, it goes on forever backwards and forwards? I would like to know where it materialised from, it can’t have been out of thin air as that would suggest the presence of an atmosphere and there is no …… oh dear , I’ve suddenly got a rather large migraine!
So the Hubble telescope was launched into the great blackness of infinity to see things far beyond our human limitations, I suppose that’s not that much of a feat really after all most of us need glasses to find our glasses, and most of the time we’re already wearing them! Sorry, I have just been kindly asked to take back that last comment. Consider it taken, yes I have just been informed (screamed at) that the Hubble has been witness to 5.3 million miles of super special spacyness! Not only has it got the ability to defeat our sight range but it can also see the whole spectrum that together makes up what we call light. When we flick that switch on up pops a yellowish light to aid our eyes. However, light contains a full range of colours, but our eyes are so inefficient that all we see is that yellowy tinge. In fact it’s worse; we actually see everything upside down! (No I am not insane, merely mad) Our eyes see an object the wrong way round, it is only after our brain has calculated the information that we see it the right way up.
Along with the launch of the Hubble came the ground based observatory, well we can’t very well pop up into space every day to see what’s going on now can we? (No before you say it, we can’t!). This observatory is based within the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. Alone the Hubble or the observatory would be quite insignificant but together they make a better team than Torville and Dean, less the ice skates. I for one always pictured the Hubble as a large planetarium shaped building with (yes OK laugh if you must, finished?? Good!) a massive great behemoth of a telescope protruding from the top. Oh come on, leave it out! The fact is that from earth it isn’t as easy to view the galactic goings on of the universe. We have a great big blanket of gas stopping us seeing the true stars of the show, our ozone layer.
Not so long ago whilst sat firmly within our solar system, orbiting like a good ‘un, we were under the impression that there were only 8 planets in our solar neighbourhood. Pluto at first wasn’t visible or rather it had not floated into view as of yet. Now through advancements in the very, very large field of space, we know that Neptune and Pluto in fact trade places during their orbits. This may be an attempt of fair play on behalf of the pair. One taking the pride of.8th place in our planetary line up, but being good sports they let the other have ago in the multi coloured spectrum that is the lime light. We have also through the help of science and a large Hubbly thing (the telescope yes.) located a new, tenth planet beyond that of Pluto. However, we have not had the pleasure of its company yet, well we haven’t even got to Saturn give us a chance. We have been able to see Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s multiple moons and more exciting Halley’s Comet, by applying technology, science and the orbiting great one the Hubble Space Telescope. We know that Halley’s Comet is actually much like a stray ice cube doomed to forever wander through space picking up various bits of dust and other space junk that creates the glowing tail like mass behind it. We have discovered that the other space asset infected by galactic ‘rambling fever,’ the meteor, is unlike the comet, a big ball of rock with various other miniature rock like followers clinging on for the ride.
The telescope also gives its name (given to it to celebrate the work of Edwin Hubble) to an intergalactic space measurement know as the Hubble Constant.
This is an intergalactic form of measuring the universe's expansion rate. This works on the following ratio; the rate of the universe's expansion, equal to the speed at which galaxies appear to be moving away from Earth divided by their distance.
I’ll take an uneducated algebraic go at this:
(U+) =S (G -> E)Â Â /Â D Oh well, I am not claiming to be a mathematician now am I? Purely an observer of scientific practice (so zip it!). Not however, in the league of the Hubble in regards to observation skills (at this moment sitting 2 feet from a 48inch screen and still squinting!). We also have another Hubbly based term for you all; Hubble’s Law. This is the ruling put in place to measure the speed of a galaxy, OK, patience, I’m getting there. This works on the understanding that, the speed at which distant galaxies are moving away from our little water logged lovely (earth)-proportional to their distance from the observer …… (no, dear god, not the broadsheet! Help me please!!)
Our (big) little Hubbly Bubbly was thrown out into the great vastness in April 1990. However, we could not possibly lift the thing let alone throw it. So we enlisted the help of the Space Shuttle. This is a purpose designed vehicle for the great vastness. Inside the shuttle, Hubble had its first experience of vertigo as it was zipped straight out of our atmosphere in to the un-atmospheric waste land of space far, far above us. The space shuttle was also a helping hand to other projects to do the same, such as Ulysses. Ulysses began its journey in 1990 but, as we all know, traffic gets the best of us and it arrived at over-ground Jupiter in 1995 to start its probing.
The Hubble has given us the odd tip or two on how things are in the racing world of space and things such as where stars come from. Previously Galileo used a similar telescopic instrument to prove (yes that generally means it’s ever so slightly true) that the earth does in fact move around the sun not as we once believed it to be. We still say the sun rises and sets but that is not the case. It’s us manoeuvring in a similar way to a waltzer zooming (OK might not feel like we are but it goes awfully fast for the amount of ground, no, space that it covers.) around the sun whilst spinning. Maybe the planets are trying to make the self stoking ball of fire dizzy, aided by their good friend gravity so they don’t fly off into the unknown breathless blackness of space.
Hubble was able to identify many stars in the system along with the collection of various bits of space dust and other spacey stuff that took to clinging around the nearest heat source. Just as we do by the radiator. However, it is actually the gravitation pull that the presence of a star creates upon its surroundings that leads to its space groupies. With the help of Robert O’Dell, Hubble found out the truth beneath the flames. Just as we are born, live and die a star does the same. We may see a dim young star then a bright mature star then watch it twinkle as the flame burns out. This can happen due to the chemical imbalance that sees it taking in / not taking in enough nitrogen (present in space) for it to burn at a steady rate. Or simply as it has consumed the majority of the gas within its reach. We cannot pin point the ‘parents’ or shall we say test tubes used to create these great load of flaming balls, but we have a rough idea thanks to Mr Hubble of the process involved. This being; somewhere within the nebula (in this case of Orion) we see a knot form in the carefully placed gaseous contents. If this were to become more dense than the matter in the space around it, the knot will start to fall foul of gravity and commence collapsing inwards. As its own gravitational field works against it, it shrinks and shrinks and become far denser than it was when the knot formed. All this floating friction and matter and molecular movement compresses it. It then gets a bit stressed out as we do and its temperature rises until the point where the heat will start consuming the gas and matter around it. So if you understood any of that more for you! (Well you’ve been hassling me the whole time I’ve been explain this so now it’s my turn)
On top of this Hubble helped workout where and what black-holes are, identify star patterns or constellations as they are better known and also gave us a sneaky peak at the face of 9th (sometimes 8th) solar planetary mass Pluto.
The Hubble was repaired due to technical difficulties on the 27th of December 1999 that affected its gyroscope that had failed a month before. So to fix the photo taking ability of Mr Hubble they sent out astro-repairmen. These deep space detectives underwent 3 space walks whilst fixing the scope and installed a whopping $70millions worth of equipment, that myself and you would probably not recognise if it came along nicked our dinner, beat us at a game of chess before stealing granny!
Now up and running the Hubble is celebrating its 20th year far ‘out there’ by subjecting poor tired folk such as myself to all this typing! With the secret weapon goes by the name of ‘rather quite interesting’ which is sending confusing signals through my nervous system in regards to whether I should stop or carry on the delving into the depth of Mr Hubble. To commemorate this event NASA has produced a bubbly book of all things Hubbly , lovely jubbly!
For more info on ‘Hubble, a Journey Through Space and Time’ the commemorative publication for 20 years worth of all things space. Float on over to your local book store.