Hubble gave us another glimpse into the processes in the early universe.
NASA released the anniversary image for Hubble’s 32nd year in space
The Hubble Space Telescope captured a unique group of objects in deep space that provide insight into the processes in the early universe. Five galaxies, known as the Haxon Compact Group 40 (HCG 40), are in the process of merging into a single entity, a process that will be completed in about a billion years.
Scientists have an extensive catalog of compact galaxy groups but the one captured in the new Hubble anniversary image stands out. Located at around 300 million light-years away from us, these galaxies are not part of a larger cluster and astronomers haven’t got a clear answer on how their configuration became possible.
The five objects are grouped in a region that is 2x smaller than the diameter of our own galaxy. Scientists theorize that there may be a lot of dark matter whose gravitational effect slows down the motion and brings them closer together. Here is the actual Hubble anniversary image:
Hubble’s record, recent malfunctions, and repairs
Hubble currently holds the longest-running space telescope record, operating in Earth orbit for almost 32 years. This was achieved thanks to several flights to it by astronauts on shuttles, who repaired and replaced many blocks and instruments of the telescope. Since the shutdown of the space shuttle program over a decade ago, repairs in orbit are no longer carried out.
Since the telescope was last serviced by astronauts in 2009, its equipment is gradually degrading and malfunctions in the observatory are becoming more frequent. In particular, in the second half of 2021, two major failures occurred at once, the last of which began at the end of October. It was caused by multiple errors in the synchronization of scientific instruments with data exchange systems; since then, the telescope has not conducted scientific observations while in safe mode.
The process of restoring the operation of Hubble was carried out by engineers this time in stages – scientific instruments were turned on one by one so that problematic blocks could be quickly identified. On November 7, the ACS (Advanced Camera for Surveys) survey camera was turned on, on November 25, the WFC 3 camera was launched, and on November 30, the COS spectrograph.
On December 6, 2021, a team of specialists restored the work of the STIS spectrograph (Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph), so all four Hubble active scientific instruments are working and collecting data again. There have been no more synchronization errors since then.
The program was extended again until 2026
The previous five-year extension of the telescope under a NASA contract with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore ended on June 30, 2021. Since Hubble continues to make scientific discoveries, it was decided to renew this contract until June 30, 2026, while the total cost of the project increased to $2.4 billion.
It is expected that this is not the last extension of the telescope – NASA experts hope that in the future Hubble will work in tandem with the James Webb telescope, which was launched into space in December and will soon begin scientific work. In this case, the Hubble can work until 2030-2040, but if the technical condition of the observatory becomes critical, then it will be de-orbited into the earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up.
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• Gianopoulos, A. (2022, April 18). Celebrating hubble’s 32nd birthday with an eclectic galaxy grouping. NASA.
• Howell, E. (2022, April 19). Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 32nd anniversary with gorgeous gravitational ‘dance’ photo. Space.com.