In the past, astronomers have observed the cosmos and were greatly obscured by the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. That all changed 25 years ago. On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit, helping humankind uncloak many more mysteries of our vast universe.
Over the next two decades, the 11-ton telescope served as our lens, peering out into the eternal darkness of space and revealing its many wonders. It has transmitted thousands of images back down to our planet, giving us photographs of enormous cosmic dust clouds, planetary nebulas, black holes, and the actual birth and death of stars.
In 2018, the Hubble is scheduled to be replaced with a better, more expensive telescope – the James Webb Space Telescope. So while it’s still in orbit, let’s take this opportunity to commemorate its 25 years of service by taking a look at some of its most incredible discoveries:
Dark matter is a type of matter that is invisible, yet reveals itself through gravity. The Hubble helped scientists gain a better understanding of dark matter by analyzing the distortions created by dark matter’s gravity, creating large 3D maps that showed precisely where it was distributed throughout the universe.
Black holes are one of the universe’s biggest mysteries. Hubble discovered a connection between super-massive black holes and galaxies with a huge number of stars concentrated at its center. This discovery gave scientists plenty of answers as to how our universe evolved over time.
By focusing on distant regions known to generate stars such as the Orion Nebula, Hubble was able to prove that protoplanetary disks of gas and dust are present around young stars. This discovery bolsters the theory that other worlds are common around the universe.
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
In 1994, Hubble was able to capture an actual comet impact, when the comet named Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter. The massive planet’s gravitational force shattered the comet, causing 21 visible impacts on its surface.
The Beginning of Time
Observing a special type of star led to what is perhaps Hubble’s greatest discovery – the beginning of time. Using data gathered by the telescope, scientists were able to calculate a closer estimate of the universe’s age, which is roughly 13.7 billion years.