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The Space Review: Picturing the Cosmos

By Jeff Foust
The Space Review

kessler_picturingThis week marks the 23rd anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps the world’s most famous astronomical observatory. The telescope has captured the hearts and minds of the public in a way few other space missions have, to the point that when then NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe announced in 2004 that the final scheduled shuttle mission to service the space telescope would be cancelled, a public outcry arose (see “Review: Saving Hubble”, The Space Review, January 23, 2012). After a change in leadership at the space agency, NASA reversed course and reinstated that mission, ensuring Hubble would continue operating well into this decade.

But why is Hubble so beloved? Ideally it would be because it is such a productive scientific instrument, but that seems unlikely. How many people know that, to give one example, Hubble observations of supernovae provided some of the first evidence of dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the universe, leading to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics? Instead, perhaps, it’s because the telescope has provided stunning images of the solar system, galaxy, and beyond.

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Picturing the Cosmos