Stunning new image marks Hubble’s 30th birthday

Cosmic reef: Astronomers have compared the telescope’s latest image to an undersea world. © Nasa

Should learning about space make us feel calmer? The world’s most famous telescope shows us the true scale of the Universe. Some people think this is comforting; others find it terrifying.

Alone in the vast emptiness of space, the Hubble telescope turned 30 this weekend with no candles to blow out or cake to cut.

Instead, astronomers on the ground released yet another extraordinary image taken by the telescope to mark the occasion.

Since its launch into orbit on 24 April 1990, the telescope has taken more detailed images of space than scientists ever thought possible, expanding our understanding of the Universe we live in.

Unlike telescopes on the ground, the Hubble takes images from outside Earth’s atmosphere, which makes them more accurate.

The telescope has made amazing discoveries, including proving the existence of black holes and exoplanets.

In the past, scientists could only estimate that the Universe was between 10 and 20 billion years old. Now, thanks to the Hubble, they know the true figure is 13.8 billion years.

For author Naomi Alderman, the telescope’s images provide a vital sense of perspective on our own lives, especially for those without religion.

In 1995, the telescope was pointed at a tiny piece of apparently empty sky for 10 days.

Astonishingly, in the “blank” sky, it found thousands of galaxies, each containing about 100 billion stars, which could in turn each be orbited by planets similar to Earth.

So, should learning about space make us feel calmer?

In a galaxy far far away

Yes, say some. Hubble provides people with some much needed perspective, showing how small human problems are compared to the vastness of the Universe. Learning about space shows us why it is important to look after our Earth.

No, say others. Learning about space may help some, but millions of people still turn to religion and faith to help them deal with their sense of insignificance.

You Decide

  1. Why are people so fascinated by what might be out in space?

Activities

  1. Do you think there might be life in another galaxy? Draw a picture showing what you think a creature living in space might look like.

Some People Say...

“Space is to place as eternity is to time.”

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824), French essayist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
For most of human history, all humanity knew about the Universe is what could be seen with the naked eye. Then, in 1610, Galileo pointed a telescope towards the sky. He saw craters and mountains on the Moon, as well as a ribbon of light arching across the sky called the Milky Way. It is generally agreed that the Hubble telescope has had an enormous impact on our understanding of the Universe we live in, and our tiny place within it.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is about how space exploration helps our struggle to protect the Earth. Naomi Alderman thinks that an appreciation our place in the greater Universe inspires us to take care of Earth But others say the value of space exploration is chiefly about gazing outwards, looking for new planets to inhabit as the population on Earth continues to grow.

Word Watch

Astronomers
Scientists who studies the stars, planets, and other natural objects in space. The Hubble telescope was named after Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), a famous astronomer who worked out the rate of the Universe’s expansion.
Atmosphere
The envelope of gases surrounding the Earth or another planet.
Black holes
A region of space where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape from it. Scientists cannot directly see black holes, so they look at the objects being pulled around them instead.
Exoplanets
Planets that orbit a star other than our sun in a different solar system to our own. Scientists think that exoplanets are the best hope for finding other intelligent life in the Universe.
Empty sky
The tiny piece of sky the Hubble telescope photographed in 1995 is astonishingly small – even smaller than the area you might cover with your little fingernail if you held it up to the sky.

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