Hubble Makes One-Millionth Science Observation
July 11, 2011
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope crossed another milestone in its space odyssey of exploration and discovery. On Monday, July 4, the Earth-orbiting observatory logged its one millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet’s atmosphere 1000 light-years away.
“For 21 years Hubble has been the premier space science observatory, astounding us with deeply beautiful imagery and enabling ground-breaking science across a wide spectrum of astronomical disciplines,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He piloted the space shuttle mission that carried Hubble to orbit. “The fact that Hubble met this milestone while studying a faraway planet is a remarkable reminder of its strength and legacy.”
Although Hubble is best known for its stunning imagery of the cosmos, the millionth observation is a spectroscopic measurement, where light is divided into its component colors. These color patterns can reveal the chemical composition of cosmic sources.
Hubble’s one-millionth exposure is of the planet HAT-P-7b, a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a star hotter than our Sun. HAT-P-7b, also known as Kepler 2b, has been studied by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler observatory after it was discovered by groundbased observations. Hubble now is being used to analyze the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere.
“We are looking for the spectral signature of water vapor. This is an extremely precise observation and it will take months of analysis before we have an answer,” said Drake Deming of the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Hubble demonstrated it is ideally suited for characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets, and we are excited to see what this latest targeted world will reveal.”
Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, onboard space shuttle’s Discovery’s STS-31 mission. Its discoveries revolutionized nearly all areas of astronomical research from planetary science to cosmology. The observatory has collected more than 50 terabytes of data to-date.
Hubble’s odometer reading includes every observation of astronomical targets since its launch and observations used to calibrate its suite of instruments. Hubble made the one-millionth observation using its Wide Field Camera 3, a visible and infrared light imager with an onboard spectrometer. It was installed by astronauts during Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in May 2009.
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July 11, 2011