Nearly a quarter of a century after its 1990 launch, the Hubble Space Telescope is still pushing the frontiers of observational astronomy, thanks to the sensitivity of its instruments, the ultra precise way the observatory can be controlled and ingenious new techniques that are allowing astronomers to peer deeper into the cosmos than ever before.
“That’s why the Hubble is still so exciting,” said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “We’re learning more and more about how to use it even better and better, whether it’s looking for exoplanet atmospheres, measuring dark energy to a precision we never thought possible or using gravitational lenses to push Hubble to look even further back in time.”
In recent observations, Hubble has been used to search for dim, difficult-to-detect minor planets beyond the orbit of Pluto, possible candidates for a flyby after the New Horizons probe streaks past Pluto in 2015. Hubble has monitored Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which appears to be shrinking, and a comet — Sliding Spring — that will make a close flyby of Mars in October.
But it’s Hubble’s ability to capture light from galaxies shining when the universe was a fraction of its present age that continues to intrigue scientists and the public alike, providing a glimpse into the depths of cosmic history. . . .