Hubble Space Telescope floats above Earth after the final servicing mission by space shuttle astronauts in May 2009. Even though astronauts no longer visit the telescope, it still needs periodic recalibration to make its two decades of observations useful to astronomers. [NASA]
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In more than two decades of observations, Hubble Space Telescope has snapped tens of thousands of pictures of the universe. It’s also taken tens of thousands of spectra and other observations. It all adds up to dozens of terabytes of data — and a treasure chest for the astronomers of today and tomorrow.
The Hubble archive allows them to look at how things have changed over the years, for example — changes in position, brightness, and structure. Astronomers can watch as the cloudy remnants of exploded stars grow bigger, or plot the orbits of stars in clusters in great detail.
That’s an even better tool when the Hubble views are combined with those of ground-based telescopes made decades earlier. Although the ground-based images aren’t as sharp, they help track the evolution of astronomical objects over a longer period.
Astronomers can also apply new technology and new ideas to old observations to better understand them. Better technology allows them to squeeze more knowledge out of older observations. And new ideas about what’s happening in the universe pop up all the time. Sifting through years of older observations can provide a quick way to test those ideas to see if they hold up — and if they require new observations to refine them.
So the Hubble archive will remain a valuable scientific resource far into the future — well after the telescope itself has completed its mission of exploration.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013