Saturday, April 24, 2010

Twenty Twenty-Ten Vision

Twenty years ago today, as part of the thirty–fifth mission in the Space Shuttle program, the crew of Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in a 380 statute mile orbit. Because nothing succeeds as planned, once operational, the initial images revealed that the telescope had a serious flaw with its optical system due to the primary mirror having been ground incorrectly. Too flat around the edge by 2.2 microns, the flaw created a severe spherical aberration.

Although the HST could still carry out its observations, it wasn’t until December 7th, 1993, during their almost seven–hour fourth spacewalk to upgrade the telescope that the mission specialists of the shuttle Endeavor installed COSTAR, the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement system, to correct the bleary-eyed primary mirror. Since then the images regularly sent back have been utterly astonishing.

To celebrate Hubble’s twentieth anniversary, NASA, ESA and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore have released a new photograph detailing a portion of the Carina Nebula. Even more astonishing than the classic “Pillars of Creation” image from fifteen years ago that revealed stars forming in the Eagle Nebula, this latest image shows towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust, three light–years–tall, rising from the wall of the nebula. Eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby stars, the pillar of gas and dust is also being pushed apart from within as infant stars buried deep inside fire off the jets of gas streaming from the towering peaks.

For more information visit the Hubble site. In the meantime, Happy Anniversary Hubble, you magnificent bastard!


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