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Where is the Hubble Space Telescope currently? (Near what planet?)

Date: Fri Jun 6 07:22:17 1997
Posted by Kate Cronn
Grade level: 10-12
School: Oneida Senior H.S.
City: Oneida State/Province: NY
Country: USA
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 865599737.As


Where is the Hubble space telescope currently? (near what planet?)

You may be surprised by this, but the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is orbiting the Earth! Not only that, but even at the height of its orbit it is only 600 kilometers or so over the Earth (at most!). You are in New York, and I am in Washington DC. That distance is about the same as the height of HST's orbit. At that height, HST is above almost all of the Earth's atmosphere, which gives it a clearer view of the sky than telescopes on the Earth. Hubble is not the largest telescope in the world (its mirror is 2.4 meters across, and we have ground-based 'scopes with 10 meter mirrors), but its clearer view lets HST see sharper details than other 'scopes.

Also, the Earth's atmosphere absorbs ultraviolet light-- which is a good thing for our skin, but bad for astronomers interested in looking at objects that emit UV light. But since HST is above the atmosphere it can see all that UV light, which is one of its biggest advantages. One of the new cameras on board, called STIS (for Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph), can look at UV light and break it up into a spectrum, like a prism breaks up sunlight into colors. This is a very powerful tool for finding out things such as how galaxies and stars form, and what very hot objects like quasars and supernovae look like. You can find pictures and info from STIS here, which is a page brought to you by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

If you want to know where Hubble is right now, the folks at the Marshall Space Flight Center have a great page which has an animation showing its position over the Earth.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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