The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990. It is 2.4 meter (about 8 ft.) aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, observing in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared with four main instruments. Five servicing missions have repaired, upgraded, and replaced systems on the telescope over its lifetime, and it remains in operation as of 2011.
Hubble’s orbit outside the distortion of Earth’s atmosphere allows it to take extremely sharp images with almost no background light. Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field image, for instance, is the most detailed visible-light image ever made of the universe’s most distant objects. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.
Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. Four servicing missions were performed from 1993 to 2002, but the fifth was canceled on safety grounds following the Columbia disaster. However, after spirited public discussion, NASA administrator Mike Griffin approved one final servicing mission, completed in 2009. The telescope is now expected to function until at least 2014. Its scientific successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is due to be launched by 2018.
Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency, and is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute. It is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble.
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