July 5, 2011

Hubble Reaches Millionth Observation Milestone

NASA said on Tuesday that its Hubble Space Telescope has crossed another milestone in its 21-years of space exploration.

The space agency said its famous telescope logged its one-millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet's atmosphere 1,000 light-years away.

Alvaro Gimenez, head of science and robotic exploration for the European Space Agency said in a statement: "With a million observations and many thousands of scientific papers to its name, Hubble is one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built. As well as changing our view of the Universe with its stunning imagery, Hubble has revolutionized whole areas of science. Thanks to ESA's participation in the Hubble project, the European scientific community is playing a starring role in these achievements."

The millionth exposure is a spectroscopic measurement, where light is divided into its component colors.  The color patterns could reveal the chemical composition of cosmic sources. 

Analyzing this data could give precise measurements of which elements are present in an object too distant to ever be visited by a space probe.

"We are looking for the spectral signature of water vapor. This is an extremely precise observation and it will take months of analysis before we have an answer," Drake Deming of the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who designed Hubble's millionth observation, said in a statement. "Hubble has demonstrated that it is ideally suited for characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets and we are excited to see what this latest targeted world will reveal."

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched by the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.  The telescope has collected over 50 terabytes of data during its 21 years of service.


Image 1: This is an artist's concept of the extrasolar planet HAT-P-7b. It is a "hot Jupiter" class planet orbiting a star that is much hotter than our Sun. For its millionth observation, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's was trained on this planet to look for the presence of water vapor and to study the planet's atmospheric structure via spectroscopy. Planets with orbits inclined nearly edge-on to Earth can be observed passing in front of and behind their stars. This allows for the planetary atmospheres to be studied by Hubble's spectrometers. Hubble's unique capabilities allow astronomers to do follow-up observations of exoplanets to characterize the composition and structure of their atmospheres. Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

Image 2: All-Sky illustration of all Hubble observations as of June 27, 2011. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Thompson (CSC/STScI)


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