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Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th Anniversary

In celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th year in orbit, GMT Project Manager, Dr. James Fanson, and GMT Project Scientist, Dr. Rebecca Bernstein, share their thoughts on Hubble and its impact on astronomy.

How do Hubble images and discoveries help make astronomy accessible to the public?

The combined sensitivity and resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope made the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image the “deepest” image ever taken. It was possible to identify and see the structure of more distant galaxies than had ever been seen. This led to the realization that galaxies in fact formed much faster than we had previously thought, which led to a whole host of new questions about how dark matter (and dark energy) impacted the evolution of the universe and the structures in it. – Dr. Rebecca Bernstein

This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

The Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized astronomy in the same way Galileo’s telescope did 400 years ago when first turned to the heavens. Hubble’s images reached the level of art, and its discoveries touched the imagination of ordinary people around the world. Hubble became the “people’s telescope” and it will always have a cherished place in our history and culture. – Dr. James Fanson

GMT Project Manager, Dr. James Fanson, reflected on his time working on the Wide Field And Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), designed and built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Dr. James Fanson holding a model of an active mirror assembly, three of which were installed in the WFPC2 to Aline corrective optics with Hubble. Image captured at the time of the Hubble repair. Image Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. James Fanson holding a model of an active mirror assembly, three of which were installed in the WFPC2 to Aline corrective optics with Hubble. Image captured at the time of the Hubble repair. Image Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

What engineering challenges did you face in working on the camera that saved Hubble? Were any insights learned valuable for GMT?

There were three main challenges we faced in fixing Hubble: 1) how do you determine the cause of the problem when Hubble is orbiting 300 miles above your head?; 2) how do you engineer a technical fix that will actually correct the problem and not make it worse?; and 3) how can you implement the fix in a new instrument and have it ready to launch in less than three years?

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in high orbit 600 kilometres above Earth. Image Credit: European Space Agency

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in high orbit 600 kilometres above Earth. Image Credit: European Space Agency

To fix Hubble, we reached for new technology that had never before flown in space, and tossed out the rule book in order to have it ready to launch in time. One lesson from Hubble is that cross checks are crucial to detect and correct human error. At GMT, we use three independent methods to verify that our mirrors are polished to the correct shape. – Dr. James Fanson