Monday, June 26, 2006

End of the road for the HST?

The Hubble Space Telescope's camera has gone dark. Cosmic rays toasted a transistor or something, they say. NASA will have to plan a shuttle mission to get up there to swap out parts, if they decide to prolong the orbiting observatory's service life at all. Kind of like deciding whether to have the transmission replaced in your 1980 Mercedes, I'd imagine. Bite the bullet now, or borrow trouble later?

All those gorgeous photos we've thrilled to since 1990 (once they straightened out the first glitch with the optics) are a little misleading. Those pics were heavily processed into brilliant colors--real visible light images of the cosmos are much dimmer, and plainer. No deception was intended, they were just trying to enhance the gossamer detail in all those interstellar clouds and nebulae. I'll miss them if this is really the end.

But, there are other space-based observatories. Hubble peered about in the visible light spectrum. Here are some others, which observe the universe in the gamma, x-ray, and infrared spectra. There's also a successor to Hubble in the works, bigger and better. But there can only be one trailblazer.

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