Happy 22nd, Hubble!

By Phil Plait | April 24, 2012 11:08 am




Hubble has observed every planet in the solar system but one: Mercury.

So Hubble has observed the Sun, but it did so literally bass-ackwards. That was to protect its mirror; raw UV from the Sun can photochemically damage sensitive parts inside the ‘scope, and of course can heat them up to dangerous levels. Also, as I pointed out before, some of the cameras would in fact be damaged by direct sunlight.

Because of that, Hubble is not allowed to point anywhere near the Sun, just to make sure no stray light seeps in. This “solar avoidance zone” is a circle 50 degrees in radius around our star. Anything closer than that is forbidden.

This directive has been broken by Hubble precisely once: to observe Venus, which gets about 45 degrees from the Sun at maximum. These observations were made using WFPC2 (shown in the image above; it was taken in the near-UV to see structure in the Venusian clouds) and the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph. Astronomers were looking for sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus, a chemical which had been detected by an earlier probe and might be emitted by volcanism on the planet. All kinds of overrides had to be sent to the telescope to allow these observations, and it was so difficult that it hasn’t been and probably won’t ever be repeated.

But Mercury never gets even that far from the Sun; at most it is a mere 28 degrees from the Sun, far too close to ever be seen by Hubble. But that’s OK: we have the MESSENGER spacecraft. It’s zipped past Mercury twice already, and will fly by Mercury one more time in the coming months before falling into orbit around the innermost planet in 2011, where it will map the planet with far higher detail than Hubble ever could.



Comments (15)

  1. Hippo Birdie Two Ewe!
    Hippo Birdie Two Ewe!
    Hippo Birdie Deer Hubble!
    Hippo Birdie Two Ewe!

    And Men With Oars! ūüėÄ

  2. Dutch Railroader

    It’s especially important to understand that even th0ugh we’re 22 years into the mission, the telescope remains a unique resource and is still doing frontier research. A few years ago the opportunity was offered to do extremely large multi-year programs of the sort that could not be done early on. There were 39 proposals submitted of which only 4 could be accepted. Clearly. with these programs alone we could have solidly booked the next decade of the telescope, never mind all the regular programs that also remain on the cutting edge.

    Sadly, the Hubble will not last forever, and despite 22 years to get ready, we have nothing at all in the pipeline to replace it.

  3. Jon

    Space Shuttle Atlantis is working on Hubble even as you write this? Did I wake up this morning and travel back in time or something? Not funny, too soon! *sniff*

  4. julianpenrod

    The links to the articles on Meryl Dorey were missing from the Discover Magazine website main page and, when that happens, contact often lags. I’m placing replies to responses here.
    In response to Ken, I have placed many items on a number of websites about chemtrails. I didn’t place an item on Rense, I was probably quoted.
    Gunnar seems intent on suggesting that I referred to individuals as anti God out of an overweaning regard for what I think. If someone is pro God and another disagrees with them, then that other is definitively anti God. Also, Gunnar doesn’t seem to be able to realize I didn’t say Plait proved a negative! I said that declaring that vaccines don’t cause autism would require proving a negative!
    Note, though, how none of those claiming to respect “science” pointed out that claiming vaccines do not cause autism was invalid. How easily they bend rules for their own purposes.
    In a more general sense, Plait manages to get an entire airline to stop airing the interview just by expressing his discontent. Intermittently, I would smell the rotten egg smell of a natural gas leak from a manhole near where I live and called the town health department about it. Trying to contact them repeatedly for more than four years, I never received a reply, nor did they even try to do anything about it. It was only after the steam pipe explosion in New York that they acted. Those in positions of money and influence don’t respond to “the public”. But, if you’re acting as a shill for pharmaceutical mega giants looking to make people sicker so they can sell them more recycled pterochamical waste they call “srugs”, you can get airlines to do whatever you want!
    And how many defending vaccines even know what evidnece of techniques were used to “verify” that they were safe? And how many are saying the drug companies are right because they’re rich or the companies claim to be “scientific” or those defending vaccines simply despise out of hand those who don’t dismiss out of hand unconventional ideas? To be sure, now that the challenge has been made, the drug companies can make carefully sanitized versions of the “evidence” available so those who promote the drug companies getting obscenely richer can pretend they know what they’re talking about.
    And how putridly “ironic” that Plait should say the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Where was Ms. Dorey’s freedom respected? Plait and his ilk bloodthirstily eagerly invoke the idea of Constitutional guarantees only being applicable on government property! That’s a common tactic of the New World Order.
    And consider Plait’s outrage at American Airlines saying people didn’t need to listen to the interview. The same ilk as the defenders of “science” here pushed for decades for the vicious degradation of culture, promoting everything from nudity to vulgarity in the media, saying if people didn’t like it, they didn’t need to look! How they change the rules they demand for others when it comes to their own wants.
    “Science” said that the identical compositions of earth rocks and moon rocks was indisputable “proof” that a planetoid struck earth, hurling the material of the moon off. Now, it’s being said that that’s unreasonable since, if there was another body involved, the compositions should be different, there should be signs of another body! What was once called unquestionable “proof” is now shown to be short-sighted and shallow! It seems only a matter of time before the “uncontestable proof” that leads Plait to announce that they proved a negative will be shown to be illegitimate.

  5. Ha im older. I feel special! Jp lol its brilliant!

  6. Calli Arcale

    22! My goodness. I feel the way I feel when I see some of my younger cousins, the ones I babysat when they were very small, and wonder how it is they can be all grown up now. How can Hubble be 22? I feel old….

    julianpenrod, if you can find this article to comment on, what keeps you from finding the American Airlines article and commenting on this? Your comments are not more likely to be read by the people you’re responding to when placed on a totally unrelated article which just happened to be on top at the time.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Happy 22nd birthday Hubble Space observatory and thankyou for everything you’ve done! :-)


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