Copyright 2009 USA TODAY, a division o Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved.In collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
By Dan VerganoTuesday, May 12, 2009High overhead, NASA astronauts arescheduled this week to begin repairson the Hubble Space Telescope. The 360-mile-high “brain surgery” inspace, in the words o astronaut JohnGrunseld, promises a brighter viewo the cosmos or Hubble astrono-mers and ans alike. Sometimes thetwo are interchangeable.“We are waiting on the edge o ourseats or the incredible results wewill get rom a repaired Hubble,”says cosmologist Mario Livio o theSpace Telescope Science Institute inBaltimore. “We are only going to getmore great science.”“Hubble will go rom a VW SuperBeetle to a high-powered race car,”says astronomer Julianne Dalcantono the University o Washington-Se-attle. Hubble will peer at stars andgalaxies ormed 500 million yearsater the Big Bang, equipped with anew camera 30 times more sensitiveto light and a chemical spectrom-eter 10 times more eective. “Wewill be able to plan observations wenever could beore, simply becausethe telescope will be more ecient,”Livio said in April.Hubble has delivered so many astro-nomical ndings, that picking outa “greatest hits” list is a challenge,Dalcanton says. When she wrotea retrospective o Hubble nds orthe Nature, she says, “I had to leavethings out, there was just too much.”Among the highlights:
Looking back at Hubble as it takes a leap orward
The 19-year-old spacetelescope undergoes ‘brainsurgery’ this week to makeit more powerul
Cepheids, pulsating stars thousandso times brighter than our sun, serve as ready-made distancemarkers in space. Measuring Cepheids in galaxies — such asthe Spiral Galaxy M100, above — allows astronomers to cre-ate a ramework by which they can precisely gauge distancesthroughout the sky.
Images o the Orion Nebula, a star birthactory, revealed that the youngest stars are surrounded bydust disks bueted by the winds rom nearby exploding giantstars. These are exactly the conditions astronomers suspectedwould lead to solar system ormation. More than 3,000 starsappear in this composite o 100 images.
Ater stars consume their hydrogen uel, an ex-plosion can’t be ar behind. Images o nearby explosions revealthe “light echoes” o blast waves shocking clouds o dust thatescape rom stars on the edge o eruption, such as this star20,000 light years away on the outer edge o the Milky Way.
Hubble has observed the stars orbiting nearsuspected supermassive black holes, rom which nothing —not even light — can escape, such as the Sagittarius A* at thecenter o our own Milky Way galaxy. Hubble also has detect-ed previously unsuspected middle-size black holes (merely10,000 times more massive than the sun) in nearby galaxies.Above, a star cluster with a black hole in its dense core.
“Deep eld” images — such as this 2004composite o the telescope’s arthest looks into the universe— surprised astronomers by showing that the most distant,and earliest, galaxies don’t resemble the spiral and ootball-shaped galaxies o the modern universe but look more like“insects spattered on a windshield,” Dalcanton says.
Age o the universe:
Hubble has honed the precision o the “Hubble constant” (also named or the astronomer EdwinHubble), the measure o the universe’s expansion rate. Hubblemeasurements o exploding stars in distant galaxies, suchas the one shown above, led to the 1998 discovery o “darkenergy,” the unexplained observation that galaxies across thecosmos are moving apart at an accelerating rate
Remarkably, Hubble isn't a very advanced observatory compared with massive telescopes on Earth, such as the33-oot-wide mirror o Hawaii's Keck telescopes, Dalcanton says. But its location in orbit rees it rom clouds, atmo-spheric distortion and city lights on Earth, which makes it invaluable to astronomers. "It's hard to conceive o a worldwithout Hubble," she says. "And the repairs will, hopeully, mean we won't have to."Page 3
Understanding Hubble’s Contributionsto the Study o the Cosmos