Who remembers April 1990?
I was a junior in high school. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor topped the Billboard 100, while the films Pretty Woman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were dominating the box office.
On April 24, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off carrying a remarkable piece of hardware: the Hubble Space Telescope, named for American astronomer Edwin Hubble. The day after liftoff, the telescope was placed into low earth orbit. By having this telescope outside of Earth’s atmosphere, brilliant images in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared spectra are possible.
Today we honor this invention’s 25th anniversary with commemorative events and celebrations of the amazing discoveries we’ve had based on the brilliant images it’s sent back to earth.
I remember the news about how there were problems with the first images. Within a few weeks the cause of the problem was identified: the blurriness was due to errors in mirror construction. What’s remarkable is that the error was on the order of just a few nanometers, yet it caused significant problems in the sharpness of the images.
It wasn’t until late 1993 that the first repair mission was launched, and a series of corrective components were installed during a record-breaking five-days worth of space walks.
The difference in image clarity was amazing!
I remember the news about the corrections: I was in college, having had made several friends in the Penn State Astronomy Club. My friends had access to the first of the images coming in. For those who are familiar with the Apollo 13 story, the spirit of innovation and critical thinking rose to the challenge in a similar manner. America as a whole was rooting for science!
Yesterday, in honor of the 25th anniversary, NASA and ESA released a gorgeous image of the Westerlund 2 star cluster. The image was deemed “celestial fireworks” in honor of the anniversary.
There are events scheduled throughout the year honor this great invention. To learn more, be sure to visit the telescope’s anniversary site, the official Hubble Space Telescope site, and the Hubble’s Flickr site to enjoy the best images.