The James Webb Space Telescope is astronomy’s bright new toy, but the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t old news – it’s at its scientific peak

The James Webb Space Telescope is astronomy’s bright new toy, but the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t old news – it’s at its scientific peak

The James Webb Space Telescope is astronomy’s bright new toy, but the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t old news – it’s at its scientific peak

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and has provided humanity with a front row seat in the cosmos for over three decades.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and has provided humanity with a front row seat in the cosmos for more than three decades.NASA

  • Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has achieved groundbreaking results in astronomy.

  • The new James Webb Space Telescope is popular, but Hubble has skills, such as capturing visible and ultraviolet light, that Webb doesn’t have.

  • The two telescopes will join together to study the cosmos in even more detail.

For three decades, the Hubble Space Telescope has offered breathtaking cosmic panoramas.

While the world is excited about NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, the aging Hubble continues to be an astronomical workhorse, providing important observations of the universe as Webb takes the spotlight.

But in pairs, telescopes are even more powerful than they are alone. Together, the space telescopes will give astronomers a more complete view and understanding of galaxies, stars and planets than ever before.

“The Webb Space Telescope is good news for astronomy and also for the Hubble Space Telescope, as Webb and Hubble enhance and complement each other’s unique capabilities,” Jennifer Wiseman, senior researcher on the project for the Hubble Space Telescope at NASA Flight Center’s Goddard Space, he told Insider.

“The return of Hubble science should be strong and even improved during this decade as Webb and Hubble unveil the universe together.”

Hubble was released by Discovery in 1990.

Hubble was released by Discovery in 1990.

Hubble was released by Discovery in 1990.NASA / IMAX

Ever since Galileo Galilei built his telescope in 1609, astronomers have aimed these instruments at the sky. Astronomers have developed these tools significantly over time, allowing them to peer even deeper into the universe.

But their observations were constrained by Earth’s atmosphere, which absorbs light before it reaches Earth’s telescopes. Enter the space telescopes. Sitting high above the distorted Earth’s atmosphere and away from light-polluted cities, observers like Hubble provide, as NASA puts it, “an unobstructed view of the universe.”

Hubble was launched on the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Although it was originally slated for only 15 years of service, it still whizzes through space approximately 340 miles above the Earth’s surface, circling the planet every 97 minutes.

“Hubble is in good technical condition, even 32 years after its launch, with a solid suite of scientific instruments on board,” said Wiseman.

Eagle_nebula_pillars

The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.NASA, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University)

Over the years, Hubble images have played a significant role in our understanding of the universe. It provided evidence of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies and measurement of the expansion rate of the universe. Hubble also helped uncover and characterize the mysterious dark energy that causes that expansion by separating galaxies. Among his most iconic accomplishments is the image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 1995, which shows the newly formed stars shining in the Eagle Nebula.

And Hubble continues to take amazing photos, even after Webb began providing images from his scientific observations in July. Recently, Hubble took an image of star-studded NGC 6540, a globular cluster in the constellation Sagittarius.

A globular cluster NGC 6540 in the constellation of Sagittarius, which was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

A globular cluster NGC 6540 in the constellation of Sagittarius, which was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.ESA / Hubble and NASA, R. Cohen

Both Webb and Hubble are space telescopes, but they differ in many ways. Hubble sees ultraviolet light, visible light, and a small slice of infrared, while Webb will primarily observe the universe in the infrared.

Webb, which is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, will be able to scan objects whose light was emitted more than 13.5 billion years ago, which Hubble cannot see. This is because this light has been shifted into the infrared wavelengths that Webb is specifically designed to detect.

But because Webb was designed this way, it will also miss celestial objects in the visible and ultraviolet light that Hubble can see.

“In fact, Hubble is the only large-class observatory that can access UV wavelengths,” Wiseman said.

A collage shows images from the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes side by side

A deep-field image from the Hubble Space Telescope, left, and a deep-field image from the James Webb Space Telescope, right.NASA / STScI; NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI

Although Webb has been referred to as Hubble’s successor, the two space observatories will unite to unravel the universe together.

Wiseman points out how they will provide insight into how stars are born within cosmic dust clouds and scattered across most galaxies. “Hubble, for example, can detect and analyze in detail the warm blue and UV light shining from star-forming nebulae in nearby galaxies,” Wiseman said, adding, “This can be compared to the vigor of star formation in the early universe. as noted with Webb. “

The two space telescopes will also join their gazes to scrutinize the atmospheres of other worlds, looking for signs that could host life.

Astronomers typically look for the ingredients that sustain earthly life – liquid water, a continuous source of energy, carbon, and other elements – when they look for planets that support life. In 2001, Hubble made the first direct measurement of an exoplanet’s atmosphere.

“In our galaxy, understanding of the planets within and beyond our solar system will be greatly improved with the combination of Webb and Hubble,” said Wiseman, adding: “The signatures of water, methane and other atmospheric constituents will be identified. using the combined spectroscopic capabilities of Webb and Hubble “.

Artist's impression of a planet orbiting a yellow sun-like star called HD 209458 - the first direct detection of the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system.

In 2001, Hubble made the first direct detection of a world atmosphere orbiting a star beyond our solar system. Artist’s impression of the planet, orbiting a star called HD 209458.G. Bacon (STScI / AVL)

And although Webb may be seen as the bright new toy in astronomy, Hubble’s unique abilities in capturing visible and ultraviolet light still make it a sought-after tool for understanding the cosmos. “Hubble is currently at its peak of scientific performance,” Wiseman said. This is thanks to a team of NASA technical experts in the field who quickly monitor and address any technical challenges that arise, he added.

“The number of proposals from scientists around the world wanting to use Hubble has risen to over 1,000 per year, with only the highest portion of these selected for actual observations,” Wiseman said, adding, “Many of these integrate the Webb comments proposed. “

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