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End of an era
August 7, 2004 8:44 AM   Subscribe

It's official. The Hubble Space Telescope is blind, and probably won't be resuscitated.
posted by crunchland (32 comments total)

 
I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that only one of its 4 key instruments is offline; see http://space.com/news/hubble_glitch_040807.html.
posted by bcamarda at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2004


From the page I linked :

"Accordingly, it is now believed that STIS’s mechanism functions are inoperable and unrecoverable. Because STIS has been single-string in its electronics since May 2001, it can no longer be used for science observations."
posted by crunchland at 8:51 AM on August 7, 2004


Oh, I see what you're saying. I thought the STIS was an acronym for the whole system.
posted by crunchland at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2004


STIS = "Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph"
HST = "Hubble Space Telescope"

From the FPP link:

The STIS science program timeline was interrupted when Suspend mode was entered. The Project and Space Telescope Science Institute will cease scheduling STIS science. Alternate observations from other instruments will replace STIS observations. All other HST science instruments are functioning nominally.


So unless I am missing something only a subsystem is offline --unless STIS is really the primary sensor system (?).
posted by costas at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2004


IANAA, but the imaging spectograph is a pretty damn key piece of equipment, I think. Isn't that the part that basically turns what the Hubble sees into something we can see?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2004


What is the big deal about repairing the damn thing? Can't we just take up a collection or something and get it done?
posted by bshort at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2004


it was aliens, i tell you! Hubble got a little too close to some city/kingdom/hive. ; >

(this is sad--it took great pics)
posted by amberglow at 9:02 AM on August 7, 2004



posted by c at 9:23 AM on August 7, 2004


Aliens? It was Al Qaeda. You know how they hate freedom.
posted by caddis at 9:24 AM on August 7, 2004


If only Hubble could have been used to kill. Then it'd still be operable.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:35 AM on August 7, 2004


From the NASA link:
Alternate observations from other instruments will replace STIS observations. All other HST science instruments are functioning nominally.
This doesn't sound critical. Interesting reports, though.
posted by mote at 9:39 AM on August 7, 2004


What a shame. The direction NASA's taking lately is unfortunate, Bush's idea of sending a manned mission to Mars being the prime example. The added expense and logistics necessary to send people is a tremendous waste of NASA's budget. Today's robots and rovers can accomplish virtually everything people can for a lot less money. It is a huge waste of resources to send humans, not to mention a great, unnecessary risk.
posted by wsg at 9:42 AM on August 7, 2004


From Space.com:

The instrument, called the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), does not make the classic pictures that Hubble is famous for, but instead splits light into its constituent colors. It has been used to discover dim stars that reveal clues about the age of the universe, study planet-forming environments around other stars and provide insight into black holes.

So it sounds like a key scientific instrument has been lost, but that the telescope as a whole will still be able to take the kinds of pictures we've come to know and love. The only question I have is that it said that the electronics that failed control the shutter. I take it that separate instruments must have separate shutters, or else they'd be saying the whole game was up.
posted by Chanther at 9:46 AM on August 7, 2004


Well, hrm. I have mixed feelings about the retirement of HST. The way I see it is that like the last 2 years of Gallileo, it has been living on borrowed/stolen time for a while now. Certainly it's a bad thing that the replacement isn't up yet, but with limited resources I can see why they want to shift the focus to the next telescope rather than keep fixing the current one.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2004



In this article, from the Houston Chronicle from January, they state that one of the 'gyroscopes' is not working properly, but three others are doing fine.

Apparently this will not be fixed due to the new NASA plan and all future shuttle missions shifting focus from repairing Hubble to creating the space station.

They expect it to fail sometime in 2007-2008 and have the new telescope up in 2010.
posted by graventy at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2004


The instrument in question is 7 years old. For astronomers relying on high-resolution spectrographic data, this may be the "End of an era," but in the larger sense, the "Hubble Era" is alive and kicking. The loss of the STIS will mean more observations for the remaining three instruments. The science will continue to flow.
posted by anser at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2004


Sad to see such a great instrument failing, but considering the incredible accomplishments of this observatory, I can't wait to see what the future brings...
posted by grateful at 12:11 PM on August 7, 2004


Still however, the loss of the spectrographic insturment seems like a real doozy of a loss. Isn't spectography pretty important for most astronomy these days?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:26 PM on August 7, 2004


Photometry can show us which stars are behaving differently at different bands, but spectroscopy is an integral part of determining why. For example, I support several scientists on one of Hubble's sister projects, Spitzer. We are currently using the images from the Array Camera and MIPS to find interesting stars in the SWIRE fields. We need the Spectrograph to take a detailed look at these stars and determine why they stand out in the images (possible debris disks?).
posted by brism at 12:34 PM on August 7, 2004


The Hubble site has a description of what they would have done on the next servicing mission. For a telescope that has done so much, it seems like a sad end.
posted by brism at 12:37 PM on August 7, 2004


spectroscopy gives you an idea of what "colours" a particular object is composed of. these are related to the chemical structure, physical conditions, etc and so are very useful to a physicist. so losing optical spectroscopy is clearly bad news.

however, it looks like the other instruments remain (2 optical imagers and an infrared instrument that can do both imaging and spectroscopy). so very crudely, it can still do 3/4 of the science it could before.

i would hate to say imaging or spectroscopy was more important than the other, but perhaps the biggest problem here is that they are somewhat complementary. the advantage of the hst over ground based instruments is that it can see very fine, faint detail. you might get an image, note something interesting, and then do follow-up spectroscopy to understand the interesting thing in more detail. that synergy is now lost. you might see something in images that you no way of understanding in more detail.

i could bullshit more, but it really would be bullshitting because i'm no longer involved in astronomy research and am somewhat out of touch. however, it's worth noting that ground based telescopes are much more powerful than they were when the hst was first launched. i would guess that the relative advantages of the hst are decreasing all the time.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:38 PM on August 7, 2004


Ah, whadda we need that damn space tube for anyway? Doesn't the bible tell us all we need to know about the universe?
posted by spilon at 1:47 PM on August 7, 2004


spilon: not really I guess the whitepages do
posted by elpapacito at 2:06 PM on August 7, 2004


Of course spectroscopy is important, however it is also important that there are 100's of wait-listed observation proposals for the other 3 instruments that will now be conducted instead of falling into the "that was a nice idea but we never had telescope time" bucket. For all we know, a major discovery could result.

It is also important to taser the lazy readers who keep posting as if HST itself were dead. It ain't.
posted by anser at 6:30 PM on August 7, 2004


So. An actual useful satelite which is trying to determine the truths of our universe is falling apart, like one of those rusty cars up on blocks in my neighborhood. Meanwhile, the satelites up there which are aimed at our planet, and can read your license plate from a few hundred million paces away? They still workin'. They ain't able to find Osama Bin Laden, but I bet they could find YOU if they really wanted to.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:08 PM on August 7, 2004


Aliens? It was Al Qaeda. You know how they hate freedom.

Not just Al Qaeda, Space Al Qaeda.
posted by ulotrichous at 7:37 PM on August 7, 2004


So. An actual useful satelite which is trying to determine the truths of our universe is falling apart, like one of those rusty cars up on blocks in my neighborhood.

Space is an intrinsically hostile environment for equipment as well as people. The more delicate and sensitive a space-based instrument is, the shorter its probable working life. I'd like nothing better than for a couple of members of the 15-person Space Station crew to fire up their Orbital Transfer Vehicle, swap out the power converters and be home for dinner. But I'm not surprised that they failed in the first place.

Meanwhile, the satelites up there which are aimed at our planet, and can read your license plate from a few hundred million paces away? They still workin'.

Actually those satellites have limited service lives as well, which is why they launch new ones.
posted by anser at 8:09 AM on August 8, 2004


The July 24 Science News has a decent cover story about Hubble's last days, which covered things like the competition among scientists for time, what kind of data is being lost, and skepticism about NASA's announcement of a robotic misson to deliver batteries and gyroscopes.

anser: The loss of the STIS will mean more observations for the remaining three instruments. The science will continue to flow.

Well, sort of:

Several astronomers noted that when Hubble dies, astronomy will lose its only sharp, ultraviolet eye on the universe...only a few other space observatories have any ultraviolet capability...There are no plans for an ultraviolet-sensitive space observatory for at least the next 15 years...

[T]he proposed space observatory often referred to as Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will search for the first stars and galaxies by examining the distant universe at infrared wavelengths. Hubble was originally expected to be around long enough to overlap with the new observatory, peering at some of the same targets as the James Webb...By the time that telescope is launched, no earlier than 2011, Hubble's last observations could well be history.
[emphasis added]

Talk about penny wise and pound foolish. Another good UV telescope won't go up until *2019*? Good lord. Wouldn't an ultraviolet/visible/infrared overlap provide extremely fruitful data? And I love the canard of "safety concerns" when NASA is throwing away the idea of robot missions to Mars in favor of manned trips. Puh-lease.
posted by mediareport at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2004


I mean that the science will continue to flow through Hubble's lifetime. Other instruments will take up the slack left by the loss of the spectrograph.

I appreciate that people want Hubble repaired, as I do, but it would be nice if that single point were understood. They will run the other three cameras more now.
posted by anser at 6:05 PM on August 8, 2004


Awww... I was going to go down to Toshi Station this morning to pick up those power converters, But my Uncle Owen wanted me to clean the carbon scoring off the droids.
posted by Perigee at 8:24 PM on August 8, 2004


Surely the fact that we have a piece of kit up there emprically testing cosmological propositions is our supreme achievement as a species? And we're going to squander this?

*Sighs*
posted by dmt at 6:41 AM on August 9, 2004


And now it looks like they'll fix Hubble after all.
posted by anser at 7:45 AM on August 10, 2004


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