June 4, 2023

  • The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized astronomy since its launch in 1990.
  • The new James Webb Space Telescope is popular, but Hubble has skills that Webb doesn’t, such as capturing visible and ultraviolet light.
  • The two telescopes will join forces to study the universe in greater detail.

For three decades, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided breathtaking views of the universe.

As the world raved about NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, the aging Hubble continued to be an astronomical workhorse, delivering vital observations of the universe, with Webb in the spotlight.

But as a pair, the telescopes are even more powerful than alone. Together, these space-based telescopes will provide astronomers with a more complete view and understanding of galaxies, stars and planets than ever before.

Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble Space Telescope senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space, said: “Webb is good news for astronomy and good news for Hubble because Webb and Hubble enhanced and Complement each other’s unique capabilities,” Flight Center told Insider.

“As Webb and Hubble work together to lift the veil on the universe, Hubble’s scientific returns are expected to be strong and even strengthened over the course of this decade.”

Hubble deployed from Discovery in 1990.

Hubble deployed from Discovery in 1990.


since Galileo Galilei He built his telescope in 1609, and astronomers turned the tools to the sky. Over time, astronomers have developed these instruments significantly, allowing them to look deeper into the universe.

But their observations were limited by Earth’s atmosphere, which absorbs light before it reaches ground-based telescopes. Enter space-based telescopes.Observatories like Hubble sit high above the distortion of Earth’s atmosphere, far from light-polluted cities, providing NASA says“An Unobstructed View of the Universe”.

Hubble was launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. 15 years of servicewhich still travels through space about 340 miles above the Earth’s surface, orbiting the Earth every 97 minutes.

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


The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

NASA, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University)

Over the years, Hubble’s images have played an important role in our understanding of the universe. It provides evidence of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and a measure of the expansion rate of the universe.Hubble also helped discover and describe the mysterious dark energy Inflation by pulling galaxies apart. One of its most iconic achievements was its 1995 image of the Pillars of Creation, which showed newly formed stars in the Eagle Nebula glowing.

Even after Webb began providing images of its scientific observations in July, Hubble is still taking stunning pictures.Recently, Hubble captured a Star-studded NGC 6540a globular cluster in the constellation Sagittarius.

The Sagittarius globular cluster NGC 6540 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Sagittarius globular cluster NGC 6540 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

ESA/Hubble and NASA, R. Cohen

Both Webb and Hubble are space-based telescopes, but they are different in many ways. Hubble saw ultraviolet, visible light, and a small fraction of infrared, while Webb observed the universe primarily in infrared.

Webb — which has 100 times the energy of Hubble — will be able to observe objects that emitted light 13.5 billion years ago that Hubble could not see. That’s because this light has been converted to infrared wavelengths that Webb specifically designed to detect.

But because Webb is designed this way, it also misses objects in visible and ultraviolet light that Hubble can see.

“In fact, Hubble is the only large observatory with access to ultraviolet wavelengths,” Wiseman said.

A collage shows photos 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).


While Webb has been called Hubble’s successor, the two space-based observatories will join forces to unveil the universe.

Wiseman noted how they will provide insights into how stars are born in cosmic dust clouds and are dispersed across most galaxies. “For example, Hubble can detect and analyze in detail the hot blue and ultraviolet light from star-forming nebulae in nearby galaxies,” Wiseman said, adding, “This is comparable to the dynamism of star formation in the early universe with Webb. detected.”

The two space-based telescopes will also combine their gazes to peer into the atmospheres of other worlds for signs that they may harbor life.

When looking for life-supporting planets, astronomers typically look for the ingredients that sustain life on Earth — liquid water, sustained energy, carbon and other elements. In 2001, the Hubble telescope created first direct measurement Atmospheres of exoplanets.

“In our own Milky Way, through the combination of Webb and Hubble, our understanding of planets in and out of our solar system will be greatly enhanced,” Wiseman said, adding, “The signatures of water, methane, and other atmospheric components will use a combination of The spectral 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 a planet's atmosphere orbiting a star outside our solar system.

In 2001, Hubble made the first direct detection of the atmospheres of worlds orbiting stars outside our solar system. An artist’s impression of the planet orbiting a star called HD 209458.

G. Bacon (STScI/AVL)

While Webb may be seen as the shiny new toy in astronomy, Hubble’s unique ability to capture visible and ultraviolet light still makes it a sought-after tool for understanding the universe. “Hubble is actually at the pinnacle of scientific performance right now,” Wiseman said, adding that it’s thanks to NASA’s team of ground-based technologists who monitor and quickly resolve any technical challenges that arise.

“The number of proposals made by scientists around the world looking to use Hubble has risen to more than 1,000 per year, with only the highest number selected for actual observations,” Wiseman said, adding, “Many of these complement the proposed Webb observation.”

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