Humanity has invented conflict, war and Religion. But not all achievements of society are bad. Quite the contrary, some of them are so magnificent they can actually restore your faith in Humanity and make you feel special to be a member of the Human family.
The Hubble Space Telescope is one of those achievements.
Image by NASA, Public Domain
The problem with observing the universe using telescopes and observatories stationed on Earth is a bit difficult because Earth’s atmosphere gets in the way. When looking at objects through Earth’s atmosphere, so-called twinkling occurs. What apparently happens is: the light which comes from distant sources passes through different densities of the atmosphere and the path of light is diverted and you don’t get precise readings.
In addition to that, atmosphere blocks ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma-rays, so if humanity wants to observe them it cannot do so through the atmosphere.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis.
So, in effort to observe stars and other astronomical objects humanity has built the Hubble Space Telescope and launched it into lower Earth orbit where it is immune from atmospheric disturbances and light pollution. Hubble orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 569 kilometers. It takes about 97 minutes to complete one orbit around the Earth.
Because of this, Hubble can take extremely high resolution images and can take a deep look into space and time. Consider the next image, for example:
This is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a composite image showing approximately 10.000 galaxies extending back in time to within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang, meaning this image looks about 13 billion years in the past!
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI) For more info on this image visit the source at: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2014/27/image/a/
(Linked image is 6 MB, full resolution, so be careful on mobile.)
The Hubble Space telescope was built by United States NASA and European Space Agency as a joint effort. ESA participated in covering the costs, providing solar panels etc., in exchange for time to use the telescope, so in effect both NASA and ESA are using it.
The Hubble Space Telescope provided Humanity with some of the most detailed and spectacular visible light images and has improved our understanding of the universe. Hubble’s observations also enabled humanity to accurately determine expansion rate of the Universe.
But what really stands out is the fact that basically ANY scientific institution can apply for time on the telescope and the committee that decides whether to allow usage of the telescope does not discriminate based on nationality or academic affiliation.1
Image by NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)
A pillar of gas and dust in the Carina Nebula. This image, dubbed "Mystic Mountain", was released in 2010 to commemorate Hubble's 20th anniversary in space.
This means, while European and US Space agencies developed and deployed the telescope, it can still be used by any country (and is used by dozens of countries), provided they provide a plan that committee approves.
This is truly what the spirit of Humanity is/should be about. Sharing opportunities and knowledge for all humans to enjoy.
Hubble’s service contract is extended into 2021., meaning it will still provide us with some spectacular images and inspirational science breakthroughs. After this time, HST will probably be deorbited.
But, have no fear, even after Hubble the future looks bright because in 2018, Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched, a collaboration of NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency and it represents a collaboration of about 17 countries. JWST is expected to detect stars in the early Universe 280 million years older than stars HST now detects.
So, the future of Space exploration and Humanity in general looks very good indeed. Thank to all of you out there, who work to better our society.