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Richard Hollingham of BBC Science reports:
"It was wrong, but perfectly wrong"
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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Happy Birthday to Hubble
Hubble's new picture of Saturn
Saturn, taken on Hubble's eighth birthday in 1998
Scientists have been paying tribute to the Hubble telescope, 10 years after it was launched.

Not since Galileo aimed a small 30-power telescope into the night sky in 1609 has humanity's vision of the universe been so revolutionised

David Leckrone, Nasa
The space shuttle Discovery carried the US-European space telescope into orbit on 24 April 1990, opening a new era in the history of astronomy.

David Leckrone, a scientist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said Hubble "has earned a place as one of the wonders of the modern world."

"Not since Galileo aimed a small 30-power telescope into the night sky in 1609 has humanity's vision of the universe been so revolutionised in such a short time span by a single instrument."

Hubble's record
13,670 objects studied
271,000 observations
2,600 scientific studies based on Hubble data
Hubble has beamed to Earth startling images that open the eyes of amateurs to the beauties of stars and planets, and also billions of bytes of invaluable scientific data.

"Hubble's rate of discovery is simply unprecedented for any single observatory," said Ed Weiler, the associate administrator for space science at Nasa Headquarters in Washington DC.

Baby planets

"But what may be even more important in the long term is what Hubble has given to just about everyone on Earth," said Mr Weiler.

Hula-hoops in space
Hula-hoops in space
For Nasa's head of science programmes, Dr Anne Kinney, one of Hubble's most memorable achievements is the view it has provided of new planets being formed.

"Little stars peeking out of discs of obscuring material. These are really thought to be solar systems before they have formed and Hubble has observed a number of these," she said.

The telescope's stellar successes eclipsed what at first appeared to be a major failure.

Just two months after its launch, astronomers were dismayed to discover that the telescope was out of focus - a flaw in its main mirror prevented its cameras from capturing clean images.

It was not until 1993 that astronauts were able to fix the problem in a space rendezvous.

The US astrophysicist Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) was the first to posit the existence of distant galaxies beyond the Milky Way and to theorise that the Universe is expanding.

Next generation

The telescope named after him has largely confirmed all his theories, and astronomers await new and greater insights in the 10 years remaining in its expected life span.

Hubble facts
$1.5bn cost
5 storeys high
12.5 tonnes
Orbits 600 km above the Earth
Travels at 28,000 km/h
They are also planning Hubble's successor - the Next Generation Space Telescope.

This telescope would be much bigger than Hubble, and able to penetrate areas of the Universe currently out of sight.

Professor Martin Ward, chairman of the European Space Agency's astronomy working group, said the telescope might come closer to providing information about the existence of life in outer space.

"Although it probably won't find planets like our Earth, because they are very small and very dense, even finding Jupiter-like planets will tell us that there are other solar systems," he said.

"This has very intriguing implications for whether there might be life out there beyond the Earth."

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See also:

14 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Ten years of Hubble science
14 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Hubble's vision is blurred
14 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Building the first space telescope
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