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Hubble Space Telescope, Launched in 1990, Prepares for Retirement

Photo : AFP

The Hubble Space Telescope, an iconic symbol of humanity's exploration of the cosmos, is embarking on a transition towards retirement, marking the end of an era of groundbreaking astronomical discoveries since its launch in 1990. Named in honor of the renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble, this telescope has fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the universe from its vantage point approximately 320 miles above Earth.

However, recent operational challenges have prompted NASA officials to initiate a phased approach towards Hubble's retirement. One of the critical gyroscopes responsible for orienting the telescope has exhibited instability in recent months, leading to sporadic "safe mode" incidents, most notably on May 24.

After extensive evaluation and deliberation, NASA has resolved to transition Hubble to operate using only one of its three remaining gyros, with the other gyro serving as a backup. This transition, slated for completion by mid-June, will marginally reduce Hubble's efficiency in conducting scientific observations by approximately 12 percent, necessitating a decrease in its weekly orbit count from 85 to 74.

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Despite this reduction in operational capacity, Hubble will retain the ability to survey the entire night sky over the course of a year. However, it will no longer be capable of tracking celestial objects closer than Mars, although such targets were infrequent occurrences.

NASA estimates a high probability of sustaining Hubble's operation with this configuration until at least 2035. At the conclusion of its operational lifespan, NASA intends to execute a controlled de-orbiting or another method of safe disposal for the venerable space telescope.

Despite these challenges, NASA emphasizes that Hubble remains a remarkably capable scientific instrument poised to continue delivering groundbreaking discoveries in collaboration with other space observatories, including the James Webb Space Telescope. Hubble's versatility and legacy of scientific achievement, spanning from the exploration of our solar system to the detection of the farthest individual star ever observed, underscore its enduring significance in advancing our understanding of the cosmos.

While the transition marks a new chapter in Hubble's storied history, its impact on humanity's exploration of the universe will endure for generations to come, serving as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the scientific community.

June 5, 2024 11:55 a.m. 478

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