He April 24, 1990exactly 33 years ago humanity invested more than 10 million dollars to launch a state-of-the-art space telescope that, by golly, turned out to be deeply myopic. Thus began the story of Hubble, one of the most important scientific instruments developed in recent decades and one of the tools that experts argue has radically transformed our understanding of the universe. after more than thirty years of experienceand now that they start to run rumors about his possible retirementworth remembering how hubble space travel began and how a ‘blind’ telescope ended up capturing some of the most spectacular images of our cosmos. His story begins like this.

Hubble was launched on a beautiful spring morning from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (United States). The telescope was put into orbit at an altitude of about 540 kilometers. Shortly after using this scientific instrument, one of the most expensive ever built, the mission team made a shocking discovery. The first images sent back by Hubble they were blurry and did not meet not even close to what is expected of such a device. The international scientific community showed with horror those space photographs since, against all odds, they were of appalling quality and they were not useful for the scientific investigations that had been proposed.

A manufacturing defect of just one millimeter jeopardized the view of the telescope

After an exhaustive analysis of the situation, the mission’s technical team will review to give a diagnosis. Hubble suffers from a serious manufacturing defect. Guilty? An error in polishing one of the telescope’s main mirrors that had caused a defect of just one millimeter. This detail, which ‘a priori’ might seem insignificant, had completely jeopardized the vision of Hubble. The experts explained that this ‘optical aberration’ caused such a level of distortion that every time the telescope tried to capture the light of a star, it ended up creating an image where the light scattered throughout the lens. In practice, it was as if he suffered from myopia because he saw everything drunk and was not able to focus correctly on distant objects.

Some glasses for Hubble

The news that Hubble was myopic came to light in August 1990, just four months after the launch of the mission. The good news, as announced by the researchers who had completed the diagnosis, is that it was already clear what the problem was affecting the telescope. I just needed to find a solution. Then began a true scientific odyssey in which experts from all over the world got down to work to try to cure Hubble’s myopia. The work was led by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the two promoters of this project, but also independent expert advice was obtained from all over the globe.

whatWhat would you do if you wanted to help a person with myopia? See better? They would put glasses on him, right? Well, that was done with Hubble. The mission science team ended up developing a series of optical correctors so that the telescope could improve its vision. The The creation and development of Hubble’s ‘first glasses’ took nearly three years. The idea was to assemble a set of mirrors and lenses able to «compensate» for the distortion suffered by this space telescope. The main lens of this giant apparatus was nearly eight feet in diameter so it couldn’t be changed. The goal was to find a way to superimpose a kind of ‘glasses’ to cure his myopia.

A duo of astronauts performed a nearly seven-hour operation to fit the ‘glasses’

is December 1993, more than three years after its release, a team of astronauts went into space to put glasses on Hubble. The mission, known as STS-61, was led by Jeffrey Hoffman and Story Musgrave (the latter, by the way, was also a doctor in addition to being an astronaut). The operation ran six hours and 47 minutes. During this time, Hoffman and Musgrave installed a set of coin-diameter correcting mirrors. A month later, on January 13, 1994, Hubble sent back the first image taken with its new glasses. And there it was seen that, finally, it was capable of capturing the stars with unprecedented clarity and detail.

space gaze

After a somewhat chaotic start, the Hubble Space Telescope has dedicated the last thirty years of its life to the study of the universe. His look has managed to reveal hitherto unknown secrets of our cosmos. It was he who, from his observations, perfected calculate the age of our universe (which stands at about 13.8 million years); discover the existence of both dark matter and black holes; provide evidence about the expansion of the universe; observe the formation and evolution of thousands of distant galaxies; and discover exoplanets where, who knows, there might be some form of life like ours.

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Hubble is also responsible for some of the most iconic images we have about our universe. Do you remember the spectacular photograph known as ‘the pillars of creation’ showing three columns of interstellar dust and gas surrounded by stars? well it was Captured by Hubble on April 1, 1995. And that image known as ‘the eye of god’ (or ‘the eye of Sauron’) in which you can see a spectacular nebula full of colors? It is also the work of this space telescope, which captured it back in 2003. The career of this space telescope has been so prolific that NASA itself has created a repository where you can check what image Hubble captured on your birthday.

The mission of this space prodigy should have lasted about fifteen years but, thanks to numerous ‘operations’ and technical maneuvers, Hubble has been able to double its life expectancy. At this time, the telescope is still active and in top shape. Of course, it is possible that in the coming years he will retire permanently. Especially after the launch of the James Webb, an instrument up to a hundred times more powerful than Hubble. Only time will tell how this story ends. space myopic who learned to photograph the stars.