What Discoveries Has the Hubble Telescope Helped Us See?

Written by carrie currie
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What Discoveries Has the Hubble Telescope Helped Us See?
The Hubble Space Telescope has aided numerous discoveries about our universe. (universe image by Svetlana Romanova from Fotolia.com)

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was designed to provide astronomers with images of space that land-based telescopes were incapable of capturing. Because Earth's atmosphere distorts and blocks light and sound waves, it is nearly impossible to get clear images and readings of space activities. After a repair to an original design flaw in 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope has enabled astrophysicists and astronomers to learn more about our galaxy and beyond.

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Dark Energy

For years, astrophysicists believed that the expansion of the universe would slow in the millenia following the "Big Bang." As the galaxies moved further and further apart, it was believed, their gravitational pull would lessen and the expansion would eventually halt. Astronomers wishing to compare the rate of expansion over time discovered that instead of slowing down, the universe was actually expanding. Using photos of supernovas, the death of stars, obtained from Hubble, astrophysicists were able to confirm the existence of dark energy. Astronomers are unsure what Dark Energy actually is, but they are certain that it makes up the bulk of space and acts upon our universe.

Dating the Universe

Before the clarity of images from Hubble were available, astronomers estimated that our universe was between 10 and 20 billion years old. By measuring the rate of expansion of the universe with high resolution photographs from Hubble, astrophysicists were able to date our universe more specifically as being between 13 and 14 billion years old.

Quasars

Quasars are essentially black holes. They were originally discovered in the 1960s and exist in otherwise normal galaxies. Images from Hubble allowed NASA astrophysicists to determine that quasars live at the centre of galaxies, a huge step forward in the quest to understand more about them.

Planetary Nebulas

As a star dies, clouds of gases are released and create what is known as a nebulae. By analysing photos from Hubble, astrophysicists were able to determine that each nebulae is unique.

Planet Formation

Before Hubble, astronomers had a theory of planetary evolution, but were unsure if they were correct because they had no way to see how a planet forms, only that new planets were appearing. Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, astrophysicists learnt about how planets are created out of spinning disks of dust and debris located in the gasfield around dying stars.

Other Planets

Hubble has been instrumental in determining the make-up of planets that exist outside our solar system. Since 1990, more than 400 planets have been discovered in other systems. Using observations from Hubble, we learnt that the building blocks of life such as water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen do exist on other planets. It shows that life may be possible on planets other than ours.

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