On April 24th, the Hubble telescope turned 25. Since it’s launch on April 24, 1990, over 1 millions images have been transmitted back to earth by Hubble to create the greatest photo drama in human history!
On this page are 10 top favorite Hubble Images. In addition to these breathtaking images you will learn about the history of the telescope, and how it propelled man’s insatiable quest to the stars!
Ironically there likely would be no Hubble telescope if it were not for Galileo Galilei, who in 1609 turned his newly invented telescope to the night sky. This small, simple invention, accidentally set man’s imagination ablaze that embarked mankind upon an insatiable quest to the stars.
FROM THE DAWN OF TIME, man had gazed at the stars and had a fascination with the night sky. The seasons became important as different star patterns would appear in the sky during different times of the year. In the spring, Virgo and her accompanying constellations would signal the time to prepare the earth, to plant crops. In the fall, Orion rises to indicate time to harvest and to prepare for winter. Early astronomers used many kinds of instruments and structures to study the heavens. They were all basically tools for measuring or calculating the positions of objects in the sky, including the Sun.
With the passing centuries, man’s fascination with the stars continued in conjunction with the study of philosophy, mathematics, and natural science. This later coalesced into astronomy, with men such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aristarchus, Ptolemy, and Copernicus. It was Copernicus who is known for the heliocentric model of the solar system which proposed the notion of perfect circular motion, and placed the Sun at the center and established the correct order of the planets in our solar system.
FOR MILLENNIA, MAN HAD GAZED at the velvet black sky with his naked eyes. He had dreamed of what must lie beyond the darkness of the glimmering stars, as he long harbored a burning desire to understand their source. Looking back on the history of the telescope, each of us must recognize that with the invention of the Hubble telescope we have been given a gift of sight beyond anything Galileo could have ever imagined. This is a direct result of man’s imagination.
We now see images of the universe through sophisticated telescopes like Hubble that are so awe-inspiring they are just short of inspired visions.
In 1608 THE TELESCOPE HAD A VERY HUMBLE BEGINNING. It evolved from the spyglass used by sailors to spy on distant ships. Which, in turn, had evolved from the invention of eyeglasses. Hans Lippershey, a German-Dutch spectral maker in the Netherlands, is generally credited with the earliest recorded design for an optical telescope in 1608. However it is unclear if he actually invented it. A master lens grinder, his work with optical devices grew out of his work as a spectacle maker. One story contends that Lippershey got the idea for his spyglass invention from children playing in his shop. They held two eyeglass lenses up together and discovered they could see the weather-vane atop a distant church. Lippershey applied, to the States General of the Netherlands on October 2, 1608, for a patent for his instrument “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby”
THIS SMALL SIMPLE INVENTION, set man’s imagination ablaze and took him to a world unknown to previous generations. When Galileo improved upon this invention and pointed it toward the night sky, it was if an invisible force were compelling it skyward, much like a compass needle is compelled to point to the magnetic north. With each passing generation, the size and magnification of the telescope grew. Along with that grew the compulsion to point them skyward in search of what was hidden beyond the mysterious velvet black sky. While some were driven by their thirst for fame or prestige, others were propelled by a sheer quest to know what existed out there in this unknown world.
Galileo devoted his time to improving and perfecting the telescope and soon succeeded in producing telescopes of increased magnification. His telescope was a simple instrument compared to the enormous telescopes of today, weighing hundreds of tons. It was a small tube with two lenses, the primary convex lens that curved outward, and the concave eyepiece lens that curved inward. Galileo’s device set the principle for telescopes to come. It would be through the use of lenses and later mirrors to gather more light than the human eye could collect on its own, focus it, and form an image through magnification. This application of lenses make it possible to seeing distant objects as if they were close up.
The word telescope was coined in 1611 by the Greek mathematician Giovanni Demisiani.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY it was as if a veil had been lifted for all eyes to see a world that had never been imagined. Now, more than ever before, man’s desire to know and understand was being fueled by the things this new technology was revealing. It was if a fuse had been lit, never to be extinguished.
In 1668 NEWTON MAKES A BREAKTHROUGH. When the Galileo-style refractor telescopes grew excessively long and increasingly difficult to handle, telescopes were ready for a new design. This design came through the imagination of Sir Isaac Newton. He investigated the refraction of light, demonstrating that a prism could decompose white light into a spectrum of colors, and that a lens and a second prism could recompose the multicolored spectrum into white light.
The images produced by this new type of telescope were free from chromatic aberration (the rings of color that surrounded bright objects). Newton changed the primary lens to a mirror and launched a new class of telescopes called reflectors, which used a reflecting mirror.
By 1673 TELESCOPES HAD GROWN TO 150 FEET IN LENGTH. With the acceptance of the astronomical telescope, a “telescope race” quickly ensued. Beginning in the 1640’s, the length of telescopes began to grow considerably in length. From the typical Galilean telescope of five or six feet, astronomical telescopes rose to lengths of fifteen or twenty feet by the middle of the century. Johannes Hevelius, a Polish brewer, councilor, and astronomer had gained a reputation as “the founder of lunar topography” who described ten new constellations, seven of which are still recognized by astronomers. By 1647, he had built a twelve-foot-long telescope in an attempt to improve his view of the sky. That was just the beginning. In 1670, Hevelius’s knowledge of the way refracting telescopes worked pushed him to create longer and longer telescopes that eventually stretched to 150 feet.
In 1686 A TELESCOPE WITHOUT A TUBE. Christopher Huygens, a prominent Dutch mathematician, scientist, and astronomer whose work included early telescopic studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan, decided to stop using long tubes altogether because of the inherent problem with long-tube telescopes. He mounted his primary lens in a short iron tube and attached it to a high pole. He mounted the eyepiece in another small tube on the ground, and ran a length of cord between the two to help line them up. This left him with a 123-foot open-air telescope.
Huygens’ telescope didn’t work well because it was difficult to line up the lenses on a dark night. His invention did not catch on very well with other astronomers.
IN 1721 SMALLER, MORE ACCURATE, AND POWERFUL TELESCOPES John Hadley, born in London, began to experiment with the grinding and polishing of metal. He managed to polish his metal mirror so that it had an approximate parabolic shape, avoiding the distortion in previous telescopes with spherical curves. By 1721, he was successful in making a six-inch diameter Newtonian reflector telescope with a focal length of sixty-two inches.
Hadley’s shorter telescope worked almost as well as its 100 foot counterparts and could be completely enclosed in a metal tube and easily moved to view the sky. Because refractor telescopes were so long, they were difficult to adjust and maneuver. Equally important was its mounting. Telescopes have to track objects across the sky as the Earth turns. Hadley developed what is now called an altitude-azimuth mount which made it easier for the astronomer to keep the object in view.
IN 1786 THE TELESCOPE RACE HEATS UP Sir William Herschel was a German musician, born in Hanover, England, who became obsessed with astronomy. The telescope race really began to heat up by the late 1770s. Herschel became interested in astronomy in 1773, and after constructing his first large telescope in 1774, he spent nine years carrying out thorough sky surveys, where his purpose was the investigation of double stars. His most successful telescope had a 6 1/4″ inch mirror that was seven feet long. He used this telescope to compile the first substantial catalog of binary stars and, in 1781, he discovered the planet Uranus.
Since astronomers design goals had changed with improvements in the reflecting telescope, the point was to build larger mirrors. The mirror size determined how powerful the telescope would be. Herschel’s goal was to make them bigger and better. In the fall of 1789 he began using a forty-foot telescope with a forty-eight-inch mirror and found two additional satellites of Saturn……
MAN”S INSATIABLE QUEST TO THE STARS TODAY If you look at the insatiable development of the telescope from Galileo onward, each generation studied the men and telescopes that preceded them. They used their own imaginations and thirst for knowledge or fame to improve upon the existing technology. They continued to devise a better way to view the night sky in a way that had never been revealed. From a simple, small, 1.5-centimeter- wide aperture device weighing only a few pounds, the telescope evolved over a four-hundred-year period to colossal telescopes of today weighing hundreds of tons with reflectors measuring over ten meters in diameter.
Today there are computer-driven, laser- and GPS-guided, ground-based telescopes costing hundreds of millions of dollars to flying space telescopes costing billions of dollars with thirty- and forty-meter ground-based telescopes on the drawing board for the near future.
The James Webb telescope is slated to replace the Hubble telescope in 2018 at a cost of $8.7 billion. From Galileo to today, Man’s insatiable quest to the stars has never dampened for a moment. It appears the only thing that trumps his ambition is the depth of his pockets!