Hubble’s wonderful mission to go on for five more years

28 Jun 20164 Shares

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NASA’s Hubble Telescope has been given a further lease of life, with a five-year extension to its glorious reconnaissance mission.

NASA has confirmed a $200m contract extension to Hubble’s current operations, taking it through to the summer of 2021. This will bring its total mission time up to over 31 years, should everything go according to plan.

The support includes products and services required to execute science system engineering, science ground system development, science operations, science research, grants management and public outreach support for Hubble and data archive support for missions in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.

The last time Hubble was upgraded was back in 2009, with its current work rate still impressively prolific. Yet the additional years added on to Hubble is perhaps a little surprising, given plans for the James Webb Space Telescope to be launched into space in two years’ time.

This telescope will be a marked upgrade on Hubble, meaning imagery even better than these stunning shots will eventually adorn our computer screens as the 2020s kick in.

Back in March, Hubble destroyed the cosmic distance record, successfully measuring the farthest-away galaxy ever seen in the universe.

When Hubble looks around our universe, it does so through a relative form of time travel. The further it looks away from us, the further it peers into our universe’s past.

So, by measuring GN-z11, a “surprisingly bright” infant galaxy at the edge of the universe, researchers used the telescope to leap farther back than ever.

In April, to celebrate its 26th birthday, we looked at Hubble’s best shots from down the years. Below are a few, but the whole series is worth a look.

Hubble images

Last year, Hubble unveiled in stunning detail a small section of the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago. Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants. The entire nebula is 110-light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100-light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.

Hubble images

One of Hubble’s most iconic shots, this 1995 image portrays what NASA called at the time, “eerie, dramatic pictures [that] show newborn stars emerging from ‘eggs’”. These eggs are dense, compact pockets of interstellar gas called evaporating gaseous globules.

Hubble images

This image of Jupiter from 1991 was the first true-colour photograph of Jupiter. All features in this image are cloud formations in the atmosphere of the giant planet, which contain small crystals of frozen ammonia and traces of colourful chemical compounds of carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus. All three above images via www.hubblesite.org

Main Hubble image via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com