Hubble’s Cultural Impact

Via National Geographic, by Brian Handwerk:

Image courtesy NASA.

Twenty years ago this Saturday, the NASA space shuttle Discovery launched from Florida carrying what would become one of the most iconic instruments in astronomy: the Hubble Space Telescope.

Since then Hubble has suffered a key mirror malfunction and shuttle tragedies that put critical repair and upgrade missions at risk. Even so, NASA mission managers say Hubble has exceeded all scientific expectations during its two decades in orbit. (See pictures of Hubble’s hottest science discoveries.)

Thanks to the space telescope’s jaw-dropping images—like this picture of the stellar nursery known as NGC 602 released in January 2007—”Hubble has done what maybe no other scientific experiment before it had done,” said astrophysicist Mario Livio.

“Hubble has gotten people interested in space and science related to the universe who never had any interest in this kind of science before. Hubble images have become a part of our culture,” added Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Hubble’s science and operations center.

To commemorate Hubble’s 20th anniversary, NASA has released Hubble: A Journey Through Space and Time, a book of images—including the pictures presented here—that best highlight the telescope’s scientific and societal impacts, according to NASA astronomers.

Hubble Sees Sword’s Details
Image courtesy NASA

Stargazers see this nebula—a massive cloud of dust and gas—in the familiar constellation Orion, where it appears to the naked eye as the brightest “star” in the hunter’s sword.

But the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope gets the full details, not only due to magnification, but also because the telescope can “see” wavelengths invisible to human eyes. Released in 2006, this picture of the Orion Nebula is a combination of visible and ultraviolet light from Hubble, along with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The composite image shows hundreds of young stars, which are emitting ultraviolet light and streams of charged particles called stellar wind. The particle streams sculpt the dusty cloud into its dramatic swirling shape.

More, here.

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