Why Is the Hubble Telescope Different Than Other Telescopes?

Written by catharine pent
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Why Is the Hubble Telescope Different Than Other Telescopes?
The Hubble telescope provides amazing images of outer space. (galaxy image by Sergey Galushko from Fotolia.com)

Orbiting high above the Earth, the Hubble telescope provides beautiful images of outer space. Hubble was launched into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. The Hubble site relates that hundreds of astronomers compete for a chance to use the powerful telescope, so a committee reviews proposals for use of Hubble's time. Operated by NASA, Hubble is controlled from Earth by radio commands that tell it where to point. A team of engineers and computer scientists is responsible for the safety and performance of the telescope.


According to the Hubble site, the Earth's atmosphere contains shifting air pockets that distort the view of telescopes that are on the ground. When you look through a ground-based telescope, these air pockets make the stars appear to twinkle. This is a problem because the atmosphere is altering the image. The Hubble telescope, with its location above the atmosphere, is able to accurately view celestial objects that other telescopes muddle.


The Hubble site relates that another reason a space telescope is important is because Earth's atmosphere actually blocks certain wavelengths of radiation before they reach the earth. These rays, such as ultraviolet or gamma rays, are important for scientists to study so they can determine the wavelengths that a star is emitting. The Hubble telescope, 353 miles above the atmosphere, is able to measure these wavelengths, providing scientists with informative data.


According to NASA, the Hubble telescope contains two kinds of instruments. First, Hubble holds imagers that take pictures of celestial objects such as stars, galaxies and comets. Second, Hubble has spectrographs, which work like a prism to break light up into its component parts to be analysed. Spectrographs enable scientists to determine the chemical make-up of objects such as stars and galaxies.


The Hubble site states that telescopes work by capturing light with mirrors. Larger mirrors have better magnification because they collect more light. Moving through space at a speed of 5 miles a second, the Hubble telescope captures fantastic images that other telescopes cannot see. Most people would guess this to be a result of a large mirror since larger mirrors have better vision. However, the Hubble mirror, which is 94.5 inches, is actually a much smaller mirror than many ground telescopes, which can have mirrors over 400 inches. Outside of the distortion of Earth's atmosphere, the Hubble telescope does not require the large mirrors needed by ground-based telescopes.


Hubble also differs from other telescopes in that it is powered by solar energy. The Hubble site states that solar arrays on the telescope convert the light of the sun directly into electricity. At times, the rays of the sun can be blocked by the Earth's shadow. To compensate for this, Hubble contains batteries that will store energy for use when there are no solar rays.

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