Hubble Space Telescope is a gift of science that keeps giving

Designed to last 15 years, Hubble is still operating more than 30 years later

NASA releases new images from Hubble Space Telescope
NASA releases new images from Hubble Space Telescope

NASA is celebrating more than 30 years of Hubble Space Telescope in orbit and recently released a set of images of the universe that include star clusters, nebulae and galaxies --some of which you can spot from your backyard.

NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center Assistant Director for Science Communications Dr. Michelle Thaller joined News 6 to talk about these newly released images from the Caldwell catalog and the history of Hubble.

Thaller has had the opportunity to be among the scientists to use Hubble to study the universe.

“I’ve had about 90 minutes on Hubble through my entire career to give you sense of how precious that time is and Hubble can see so far away,” Thaller said.

Some of the new Caldwell images include celestial gems that can be spotted with a telescope, binoculars or the naked eye. The catalog of images were originally compiled by British amateur astronomer Sir Patrick Caldwell-Moore and published by Sky & Telescope magazine in 1995.

Originally, the space telescope was designed to last 15 years in orbit. Thirty years later, scientists are hoping it lasts for another decade.

This Hubble image captures Caldwell 78 (or NGC 6541), a globular star cluster roughly 22,000 light-years from Earth. The cluster is bright enough that backyard stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere can easily spot it with binoculars. Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Piotto (Università degli Studi di Padova); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America) (WKMG 2020)

After launching in space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center on April 24, 1990, NASA quickly realized there was something wrong and astronauts had to go and repair the telescope.

“It began with this sort of incredible comeback story because when Hubble was launched, and we opened it up to look at the sky, there was the catastrophe,” Thaller said.

When Hubble first began returning science data, astronomers did not see the clear images expected but fuzzy stars. They soon realized there was an issue with the telescope’s primary mirror.

Ultimately, astronauts would make five servicing missions, with the last in 2009. These spacewalks were able to extend the life of the $4 billion telescope by at least 25 years, says Thaller.

The space agency is building another even more powerful telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope that will ultimately replace Hubble. That mission is slated to launch in late 2021.

You can see dozens of images and learn the science behind them by visiting NASA’s website.


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About the Authors:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Emilee hosts the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Space Curious. Previously, she was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a web producer at the Naples Daily News.

Haley is a producer at News 6 and has been with News 6 since October 2014. She's a graduate of Indiana University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in journalism. She specializes in lifestyle writing and volunteers for Canine Companions for Independence.