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Capturing Hubble

Since its launch into space on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has had a incredible history (some of it with the Adler!)  To many, it seemed that the Hubble began as a costly failure (some reporters joked that the Hubble needed glasses). What it actually needed was a lens transplant, so NASA came up with the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSPAR) and it turned out to be an incredible success! (Figure 1)  


(Figure 1 ) Hubble image of spiral galaxy M100 before (left) and after (right) the first servicing  mission.

(Figure 1 ) Hubble image of spiral galaxy M100 before (left) and after (right) the first servicing  mission.

During its 23-year operational history, the Hubble became the workhorse of the astronomical community and a source of stunning and compelling photos for the rest of us.  Meanwhile, hundreds of aspiring young astronomers used this amazing resource in research projects to obtain their Ph.D.'s. 

This 94.5-inch (2.4-meter) telescope enables astronomers to see objects near the horizon of the Universe more than 13 billion light years away – objects so far away that their light began its long journey to Earth less than 500 million years after the Big Bang.

Throughout the first Hubble servicing mission in 1993, the Adler staff kept the building open all night for 5 nights running to enable members and the public to watch the nail-biting capture, the many space walks, and release of the massive telescope over NASA TV.  Using the raw videotape of the mission captured during those long nights, I recall compiling a video of the amazing event once sold in the planetarium store.

A former Adler student participated in three of the five Hubble servicing missions,  Dr. John Grunsfeld, currently NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.  While in high school Dr. Grunsfeld enrolled in the Adler’s Astroscience Workshop (ASW) program, and later received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Chicago.  Interestingly, his grandfather, Ernest Grunsfeld Jr., was the architect of the Adler 1930 building.

One of my favorite Hubble images is a 48-image mosaic of a star forming region of dust and glowing gas 7,500 light years from Earth called the Eta Carinae Nebula.  This nebula is featured as a 20-megapixel mosaic across the tiled wall display in Adler’s Space Visualization Lab, and contains some unusual dusty silhouettes produced by dust in front of glowing gas clouds – I call this one the “Running Man” (Figure 2).

(Figure 2) Eta Carinae Nebula (partial). “Running Man” silhouette.

(Figure 2) Eta Carinae Nebula (partial). “Running Man” silhouette.

This mosaic was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The Hubble images were taken in the light of neutral hydrogen. Color information was added with data taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Red corresponds to sulfur, green to hydrogen, and blue to oxygen emission.

Check out more images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Don't miss Adler After Dark on Thursday, March 21. This month's theme is Capturing Hubble and we want you to help us celebrate Hubble’s legacy! We'll be showcasing  Saving Hubble, a powerful documentary that charts Hubble’s story, along with Hubble-related programs, our special cocktail “The Fuzzy Astronaut,” and beats by DJ sHaDe and DJ MassTransit. 

Larry Ciupik is an Astronomer and Director of the Doane Observatory at the Adler Planetarium. 

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