Built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Hubble Space Telescope has been responsible for helping astronomers unravel some of the universe’s most beguiling mysteries. It is one of NASA’s longest-running and most successful missions. Launched in 1990 from the space shuttle Discovery, the telescope with its massive 7-foot 10-inch diameter has sent back hundreds of thousands of images to Earth and has allowed scientists to see the universe in unprecedented levels of detail.
Even though there are many extremely powerful ground-based telescopes in countries around the world, Hubble’s position 353 miles above the surface of the Earth, outside Earth’s atmosphere, means that the images it captures are affected to a far lesser degree by distortion and blockage of light. Among the many things that Hubble has revealed to today’s astronomers are the galaxies in their various stages of evolution and the age of the universe (around 13 billion to 14 billion years).
Of course, the Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for more than 20 years now, and its life expectancy is nearing an end; it is expected to be taken out of service in 2013. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is already in production, however, and from its orbit some 940,000 miles away from Earth it should reveal further secrets about the universe, including information about the birth of the stars, solar systems and galaxies.
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