On April 24, 1990 the Hubble Telescope was launched into orbit by NASA aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Named after Edwin Hubble (a renowned American astronomer), this amazing telescope has transformed what we know about outer space. Since it began orbiting the earth, it has continuously sent back pictures of our universe that can only be described as awesome!
First a few facts. The Hubble Telescope is over 43 feet (13 m.) long, about the size of a large school bus. It weighs 24,500 pounds (11,110 kg.) or the weight of two full-grown elephants. Hubble is able to take such clear pictures because it orbits at an altitude of 343 miles which is beyond our atmosphere. Hubble is fast too, speeding along at 17,500 miles per hour. This means it orbits the earth every 97 minutes.
Hubble is powered by the sun using two 25 foot solar panels. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Each week Hubble transmits 120 gigabytes of scientific data back to earth. That’s equivalent to 3,600 feet of books on a very long library shelf! When Hubble was first launched, its creators were dismayed to learn that its main mirror was defective. Hence, the images it was sending back were blurred. This problem was corrected in 1993 when astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor successfully performed a service mission to the telescope. Since then four subsequent space shuttle missions have repaired or upgraded the telescope.
Hubble is not cheap. It cost 1.5 billion dollars to build and launch. The cost to maintain Hubble is 100 times greater than ground-based telescopes. But Hubble is in continuous use. Strictly speaking, anyone can apply for time to use Hubble, but most users are from the scientific community. Thousands of proposals to use Hubble are received each year from all over the world. A special board decides who gets to use the telescope. Only about 1/5th of the requests are able to be granted each year.
What has Hubble accomplished? It has helped us determine more accurately the age of the universe (between 13 and 14 billion years old.) It has also identified quasars and the existence of so-called black energy. It has informed us that the universe is expanding faster than previously thought. It is bigger than we thought too. There are at least 50 billion other galaxies, each one containing between ten million and 1 trillion stars! Within our own galaxy, Hubble has confirmed the existence of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. And it has allowed us to see deeper into space and farther back in time than ever before. And in doing all of this, Hubble has beamed back to earth those magnificent pictures of our universe which (as someone remarked), “has united our planet in wonder.”
Hubble is expected to continue functioning until 2020. Meanwhile its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is
scheduled to be launched in 2018. This infrared telescope will be able to look even farther into space and time than Hubble.
For me personally, I am happy to be living at the time when we have access to this marvelous invention. I thank God for the Hubble Telescope and all the information and knowledge it is giving us. When I gaze at some of its pictures and scan some of its data, I find myself asking, “What must God be like?” Or “If this created universe is so vast and so spectacular, what must the Creator be like?” The Hubble Telescope has made me (and probably many others) realize that God is “bigger,” more incredible, more mysterious, more wondrous, more astounding, more amazing, more awe-inspiring than we ever knew or thought or could imagine.
I would like to conclude this reflection with a few more images taken by Hubble. But first, the song I have selected is “How Great Thou Art.” After you listen to the song (and perhaps sing and pray along with it), let me know your thoughts on Hubble, the images from Hubble, or the song. Thank you!
Here are a few more images from Hubble: