Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 19th Dec 2010

Fact Impact: The Hubble Space Telescope

Dominic Ford

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Lessons from the Past - Exploring the History of Astronomy

• The Hubble Space Telescope orbits 350 miles above our heads.
• It travels at 7½ km/s …
• … and circles the Earth every 97 minutes.
• Its mirror measures 2½ m across…
• … and its tube is 13 m from end to end.
• The whole structure weighs over 11 tonnes.
• It draws three kilowatts of power, as much as an electric kettle…
• … and needs the equivalent of 20 car batteries worth of storage, as well as its solar panels.

• It was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990 …
• … and celebrated 20 years in space last April.
• It’s been serviced five times by the space shuttle…
• … and it can carry five different cameras and spectroscopes at any one time.

• Two on-board computers control Hubble: one steers the telescope and the other records the images.
• Originally, custom-designed machines were used…
• … but for the past 10 years, an on-board Intel 486 has controlled Hubble’s instruments.

• From space, Hubble can observe in infrared and ultraviolet light…
• … even though these wavelengths are completely invisible from the ground as they’re blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere.
• Hubble has 20 times better resolution than traditional ground-based telescopes…
• … but it hasn’t always been that way; for its first four years a fault in its optics made it little better at all.

• Hubble has measured the expansion of the Universe with unprecedented accuracy…
• … it has seen distant supernovae and found evidence for dark energy …
• … it has seen debris discs in the Orion nebula which might one day form into planets …
• … it has produced images of distant members of the solar system, Pluto and Eris …
• … but it has never been pointed at Mercury, which is too close to the Sun to be observed safely.

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