Hubble telescope remains inoperative due to mystery problem

23 Jun 2021

Image: © Vadimsadovski/Stock.adobe.com

The famous space telescope has dealt with extended technical difficulties after apparent problems related to its memory systems.

The Hubble Space Telescope is out of action as it continues to orbit 547km above the Earth.

The bus-sized device was put into safe mode to preserve its future functionality and it remains in this state.

Hubble first experienced problems on 13 June, with initial indications suggesting a degrading computer memory module as the source of the problem.

The team attempted to switch to a back-up memory module, but this failed to fix the issue.

Reporting on 22 June, NASA wrote: “After performing tests on several of the computer’s memory modules, the results indicate that a different piece of computer hardware may have caused the problem, with the memory errors being only a symptom … The team is currently designing tests that will be run in the next few days to attempt to further isolate the problem and identify a potential solution.”

If the problem with the current computer can’t be fixed, Hubble has a backup payload computer onboard. Once activated, this hardware would need several days’ performance assessment before normal operations are completely restored. This would also be the first time the backup computer has been switched on since its installation in 2009.

While the 30-year-old telescope has been inoperative for 10 days and counting, the advances and insights generated continue to stream in.

One new report identified spiral galaxy NGC 3254 as a Seyfert galaxy.

Seyfert galaxies have extraordinarily active cores that release as much energy as the rest of the galaxy put together. These galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centre and release vast amounts of radiation.

While NGC 3254 looked like a typical galaxy, Hubble helped to identify its Seyfert nature through composites of photos taken in the visible and infrared spectrum.

A second report that has emerged since Hubble’s breakdown is the existence of a galaxy seemingly lacking the appropriate amount of dark matter.

Debates continue as to the meaning of this finding, but Hubble’s contributions in narrowing down possibilities is inarguable.

The James Webb Space Telescope is due to supplement Hubble sometime in 2021 and is being pushed as the “largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space”. Hubble, however, was the first telescope designed to be maintained in space by astronauts, with its last visit in 2009, and is estimated to continue its operations for at least another 10 years.

Sam Cox is a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news

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