Happy birthday, HST!

By Phil Plait | April 24, 2006 8:53 am

On April 24, 1990, Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space. I was in graduate school, having just finished my masters degree, and was looking for a PhD project. What timing! Hubble launched, and I hooked up with a team observing Supernova 1987A. After I got my degree, I continued to work with Hubble, calibrating and using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS.

After 16 years, and a few bumps in the road orbit, Hubble is still up there and observing the distant cosmos. The image above is of a weird galaxy called M82, which was once thought — understandably– to be exploding; the image was released to celebrate Hubble’s 16th anniversary in space. It’s now understood that M82 is undergoing a period of intense star formation, and the red junk you see in the image is gas and dust being expelled by the combined solar winds of millions of newborn stars.

Hubble has been an amazing observatory, and will continue to be for some time. There have been more space telescopes launched since Hubble, but it will always be remembered as the one that put astronomy into the consciousness of America and the world.’

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (14)

  1. CR

    WOW! Images like this which contain such never-before-seen detail & clarity are absolutely stunning! Our universe is a far more interesting and amazing place than some of the most imaginitive science fiction or fantasy… and it’s real.
    I love the fact that the HST and others help us resolve (pun intended) the mysteries around us, and help us see things we never imagined. And images like this once again remind us that for all the hard numbers & data, science can be beautiful, too.
    (OK, beauty is subjective, I know… but it’s through science that such beauty can be revealed. Seeing what something really looks like in detail, and understanding what it’s made of, doesn’t make it any less beautiful in my eyes, and in fact such understanding actually increases the beauty for me.)

  2. OptimusShr

    Happy birthday Hubble! Now how should we celebrate all the science and beautiful images it’s given us?

  3. Chip

    We read about the latest Hubble projects and discoveries, and that’s great, but Hubble has also collected so much excellent data and images over the last 10 years, that there are people today studying just older specific data. That’s a great testament to its enduring legacy.

  4. Jim

    Saw this earlier today great pic.

  5. Kevin

    Now that HST is 16, it can get its drivers license. Then watch out!.:)

  6. Bob Hawkins

    This can’t be right. I remember when Hubble was launched, all the news media had stories about how it was worthless. “Hubble Rubble” was one headline. The New York Times, the newsweeklies, the networks, they were all in agreement. It was as unanimous as global warming is now.

  7. Cindy


    Maybe you’re thinking of the announcement on June 27, 1990 about the spherical aberration of the primary mirror? (I remember the date very well as it was my birthday and I was working on Hubble at the time!)

    At the time of the launch, nobody knew about the problems with the mirror. It wasn’t until Hubble started looking at objects in May and June of 1990 did anyone realize the problem. NASA then looked back at the data from grinding of the mirror and realized it was ground wrong. Because NASA then knew how it was ground wrong, corrective optics could then be made to correct for the problem.

  8. Happy Birthday, HST! But what DO you get for a space telescope? And how much do you think NASA would charge to deliver it? *LOL*

  9. Chip

    Bob –
    I don’t recall the hard news media saying it was “worthless”, just that there was disappointment with the images. The mission to correct the mirror problem was yet another technological accomplishment, which the media, including science journals duly reported.

    Global warming is off-topic to Hubble, though it is a real phenomenon and is currently suspected to be peculiarly balanced by something not as often reported, global dimming, caused by air pollution. This could lead to serious climatic problems in the near future.

    Aside from Hubble, there are other orbiting spacecraft that monitor Earth’s land and sea changes and climatic conditions, and are highly helpful in this on-going research.

  10. Kaptain K

    If NASA lets this magnificent machine die, it will be a shame!

  11. Melusine

    For longevity and breadth of “giving back to the public,” Hubble rivals the Apollo program, imho. Not that I don’t like rockets, and it was because of my visit to KSC and going ~ooh, wow, cool~ over the Saturn V, that I ended up on Phil’s Bad Astronomy site here. But Hubble has given 16 years and tons of wallpapers to boot; it’s still living and thriving, even if at times in fits and starts. And with all the cool Mars images et al, Hubble is still grand, as evidenced by the Pinwheel Galaxy images produced not so long ago.

    And though we all know it is hours and much work done by the men and women behind the Oz curtain of Hubble that produces all these mind-blowing pictures, Hubble still seems to have a life of its own. When they talked about letting Hubble fly off into the ether, so to speak, grown men (and women) at the observatory were practically in tears discussing it. Really.

    Either Hubble has to live, or have a child. ~Lol~ Bourgeois Nerd, it should be obvious what Hubble’s birthday present should be. :-)

  12. Anthony

    If only Marilyn Monroe were around to sing “Happy Birthday” to Hubble! (Would Marilyn Manson be a proper substitute?)
    Is it true that when Kennedy said “ich eine Berliner” some people thought he was saying “I am a jelly doughnut” or is this merely Ann Coulter recycled?
    And where oh where is Planet X? My stock at the office certainly nosedived since 2003, when I went around screaming about “the end of the world as we know it”! (Or was that because REM is considered “so 90s” by the folks I work with?)

  13. Melusine

    Anthony, what substances do you add to your coffee in the morning? 😉

  14. Joel Godwin Munthali

    I need your good office to be updating me with the free images of the space. Especially i would to be uptodate of the present unknown which people think it might pass near the earth. Other they call it Nibiru or comet X.




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