Why is the space telescope not obsolete yet?

On May 19, 2009, an astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis captured this Hubble Space Telescope image. © NASA/Imago

Hubble is over 30 years old and still in operation. Now a new space telescope delivers sharper images: James Webb. Why do astronomers still need Hubble?

Greenbelt (Maryland, USA) – The James Webb Space Telescope was launched a year ago. For almost half a year it has been delivering breathtaking images that are extremely high-resolution. In the case of the “Pillars of Creation” it is easy to see that Hubble’s old recording, on the other hand, appears very blurred and soft.

Nevertheless, astronomers continue to hold on to the Hubble telescope. It’s not too late for the end of the decade to remain in use – we’ll not even go beyond 2030. Do you have questions about the current $16 million telescope still in operation?

Space image in the week of October 20, 2022: Left: The old

Space image in the week of October 20, 2022: Left: The old “Hubble” image of the “Pillars of Creation”. Hardly any stars can be seen. Right: The new image of the “Pillars of the Earth” from the James Webb Space Telescope. I am very confused about the shot, there are clearly more stars to be seen. © NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Hubble Heritage Project (STScI, AURA), Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

James Webb and Hubble in comparison: New space telescope delivers high-resolution images

The high-resolution James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is ideal for observing distant galaxies because it works in the infrared wavelength range. Hubble studies the universe in other wavelength ranges such as the high-energy ultraviolet light. This is emitted by exploding stars, for example. Even in the visible wavelength range, it can capture stars, galaxies and cosmic phenomena close to Earth.

This makes Hubble unique. No other observatory can fulfill these tasks comprehensively and well. When both telescopes are aimed at an object, much more knowledge can be collected than would be possible with just one of the two space telescopes.

Hubble remains the only choice for observations – James Webb is no alternative

Observations from Earth are nowhere near as good as those from space. The earth’s atmosphere filters out most of the UV light. But Hubble flies at an altitude of 535 kilometers and doesn’t have this problem – the International Space Station ISS, which is currently having problems because of a leak in the Soyuz spacecraft, flies at an altitude of around 400 kilometers by comparison. NASA plans to send another powerful UV telescope into space for the first time in the 2040 years.

“Meanwhile, Hubble is pretty much the only solution for a lot of astrophysics,” says Tom Brown. He is the director of the Hubble Mission Office at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. A project has been started at SRScI for years, which uses Hubble to observe the UV light from young stars. As these stars gorge on gas and dust, they glow and radiate in the ultraviolet wavelength range. According to Brown, the investigation is now 96 percent complete. This will create a library of UV information from 200 stars so their astronomers can better understand the formation of stars of this type.

Hubble Space Telescope is unbeatable: short-term observations of “temporary” phenomena every Thursday

When it comes to studying transient phenomena, Hubble is also unbeatable. Exploding stars that appear in the night sky without warning need to be investigated before they fade. Hubble can observe these in both UV wavelengths and visible light once they are discovered.

It is true that there are meticulous observation plans that the scientists have to adhere to. However, once a month there is the “flexible Thursday”, which applies exclusively to temporary phenomena.

Observing phenomena in space: James Webb and Hubble should form a synergy

In the coming years, the main focus will be on coordinating the Hubble and JWST observations. While Hubble observes nearby galaxies, the JWST can study distant galaxies. This allows a timeline of galactic evolution to be created. But the James Webb Space Telescope can also study the atmospheres of exoplanets, which Hubble has long studied.James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope provides the deepest and most detailed insights into space to date. © Laura Betz/NASA/AP/dpa

“The power of these two observatories increases our ability to understand all these areas of astrophysics. Now is the time to take full advantage of these facilities,” explains astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Looking for Hubble to retire?

How long Hubble WILL BE in operation is not up to astronomers alone. “If I asked you when your car breaks down, you wouldn’t have a clue, and that’s pretty much the world we live in,” says Jim Jeletic, Hubble’s famed program director at the Goddard Center. Repair work could be carried out with the Space Shuttle – however, the program was retired in 2011.

In addition, the space telescope falls steadily in the direction of the blue planet because of the Earth’s gravity. Originally blog it times at an altitude of 615 kilometers above the earth’s surface. Center Ville is 535 km. Now that the telescope is dying, the altitude is projected to hold until the mid-2030s.

Danger for space telescope: Hubble is affected by solar storms

Another shortcoming are solar storms: in 2025 the maximum of solar activity should be reached. These can bring about the end of Hubble faster than previously thought. NASA, together with the private space company SpaceX, is investigating whether it can take the space telescope to a higher orbit with a space capsule.

But even in the Hubble telescope there are wearing parts that can break without warning. Sometimes problems can be avoided and solved differently. But there WILL come a day when Hubble will have to cease service due to old age. After all, Hubble hated more than 30 years ago. The astronomers are therefore grateful for each additional year.

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