The world’s first space telescope celebrates a quarter century this week. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery 25 years ago Friday, on April 24, 1990.
Hubble’s contributions to space exploration are countless. Its images, explains Hubble Space Telescope Senior Project Scientist Jennifer Wiseman, have shown the first definitive detection of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. They also have provided measurement of the expansion rate of the universe, and detection (along with ground-based telescopes) of acceleration in that expansion, caused by mysterious “dark energy” that appears to be pushing the universe apart.
“Hubble will go down in history as having changed the textbooks by totally revolutionizing humanity’s view of the universe, and our place in it,” Wiseman says. “It has also shown us exquisite beauty in the universe, in everything from galaxies to glowing nebulae to planetary atmospheres in our own solar system.”
Currently weighing 27,000 lbs. (almost twice the size of a large African elephant), extending 13.3 meters (the length of a large school bus), Hubble has captured more than 1.2 million images. The low-orbit telescope does this with two mirrors that are tucked into the apparatus. Powered by the sun, it takes a mere 95 minutes for the telescope to complete its orbit around the earth, traveling about 17,000 mph at an altitude of 340 miles.
All week, NASA is marking the anniversary with events showcasing the telescope’s achievements in space exploration. Images taken over the past 25 years will be broadcast all week in New York’s Time Square; The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington will host a panel Saturday featuring NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers; and the IMAX movie “Hubble 3D” is now showing at select theaters across the U.S.
Enjoy some of the telescope’s most iconic images, including its very first, from May 20, 1990.
Photo captions are provided by NASA. You can see more photos on NASA’s Hubblesite.org.