End of Hubble era looms

Hubble James Webb
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When the time comes, Hubble Space Telescope’s controllers will despatch a robot to push it toward Earth.

That will be the end of the HST era.

In an undignified, fiery decent, HST will burn up in the atmosphere. All matter that constructed HST will be recycled somehow in the greater space envelop around Earth, and maybe some of the heavier fragments will plummet to Earth. Either way, this will be the end.

This telescope will be replaced with the James Webb space telescope at a cost of $US8.7 billion. JWST will be 100 times more powerful than Hubble. Its mirror is six times the HST’s mirror area and it will use infrared instruments to see the early Universe beyond HST’s capabilities.

While the HST orbits Earth at around 570 km, JWST will be located 1.5 million km from Earth so that it can orbit the Sun at the same speed Earth does. This is a special area in the sky that means the telescope can observe permanently, without worrying about the Sun or the Earth blocking the view.

JWST will be launched in 2018 but probably won’t be useful for another 6 months or more.

Until then the HST will continue working in low Earth orbit as long as it can, returning data for scientists. NASA is yet to identify the end date, but given its technology is 25+ years old and repairs and maintenance have not been possible since 2009 when the last astronauts serviced it, the end is approaching.

See all the headline facts about JWST at this link http://jwst.nasa.gov/facts.html.

Key among this data are the mission goals which focus on the early time scales just after the Big Bang.

See all about the amazing Hubble era at this link http://hubblesite.org/.

Image credit: Northrop Grumman. Artist’s view of James Webb Space Telescope.