The space observatory and its instruments, an international cooperative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, captures unprecedented views of stars, galaxies and the distant universe in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared light. These different wavelengths of light have allowed Hubble to peer into different regions of space that had never been observed before.
It orbits the Earth from a distance of 340 miles, well above the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere for observing space both near and far.
“Hubble gave us a new sharp clarity in our view of deep space,” said Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble Senior Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “And that came about simply because Hubble was placed above the atmosphere of the earth.
“This has given us a new vantage point for viewing everything in the universe from the nearby solar system to distant galaxies and opened our eyes to the richness of the content of the universe and dynamic activity of the universe over time.”
The telescope was named for pioneering astronomer Edwin Hubble, who discovered in the 1920s that distant clouds in the universe were actually galaxies. (He died in 1953.) Hubble relied on the work of astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt’s discovery of the periods of brightness in pulsating stars called Cepheid variables.
Hubble’s work led to the revelation that our galaxy was one of many, forever changing our perspective and place in the universe. Hubble continued his work and discovered that distant galaxies appeared to be moving rapidly, suggesting that we live in an expanding universe that started with a big bang.
“One of the main reasons for building Hubble was to be able to measure more precisely the expansion rate of the universe,” Wiseman said.
“By Hubble’s ability to observe activity in distant and faint galaxies, we’ve been able to measure that expansion rate. We’re still refining it. In recent years, Hubble, along with others observatories, was a major contributor to the discovery that this expansion rate is accelerating and that was a surprise. We now call the phenom behind this dark energy.”
This detection of the universe’s expansion rate helped lead to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.”
Over 30 years, Hubble has enabled astronomers around the world to study black holes, mysterious dark energy, distant galaxies and galactic mergers. It has observed planets outside of our solar system and where they form around stars, star formation and death, and it’s even spotted previously unknown moons around Pluto.
Hubble has characterized the atmospheres of exoplanets and spotted weather shifts on planets in our own solar system. And it’s looked across 97% of the universe, effectively peering back in time.
The telescope was expected to last for 15 years, and it’s still going strong. But Hubble was also designed to be serviced and upgraded over time.
Each mission, which took years of planning and preparation, required the astronauts to leave the shuttle and conduct spacewalks to and inside a component of the telescope for repairs and installing instruments. All while the telescope moved at 17,000 miles per hour at an inclined 28.5 degrees to the equator around the Earth.
“It shows me how all of us can all work together to make something fantastically successful and gratifying for humankind,” Wiseman said. She has worked on Hubble in various roles for 20 years.
Discoveries, expected and unexpected
In 1994, Hubble had the chance to watch a violent event in our solar system.
The Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was unexpectedly drawn into a collision with Jupiter, and the comet was pulled apart into fragments. Astronomers saw 21 pieces of the comet hit Jupiter, leaving temporary black scars within the planet’s iconic clouds. They had never seen anything like it before.
“This was an astounding realization that solar system bodies can interact in very energetic ways and that maybe our solar system isn’t a completely safe place to be,” Wiseman said.
“Since then, Hubble has given us a dramatic show of how planets in our solar system have weather changes, how asteroids can actually collide with each other, how moons of planets in our solar system can show activity and signs of water and basically how our solar system might in fact compare to other star systems.”
Outside of our solar system, Hubble has explored our Milky Way galaxy and neighboring galaxies. The dramatic, colorful images Hubble is known for are largely of active nebulae in our galaxy, bright clouds of gas and dust where stars are forming.
In 1997, a servicing mission installed NICMOS on Hubble, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer. This new instrument allowed the observatory to peer through the thick gas and dust surrounding star nurseries in galaxies, where the stars emit infrared light.
Rodger Thompson, the lead for NICMOS and an astronomy professor in the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, began working on the proposal for the instrument in 1984. It shaped the future of infrared astronomy, from revealing secrets of star formation to looking back at the earliest galaxies in the universe.
“We could see down into these dusty regions where stars are being formed in all the exquisite detail with Hubble,” Thompson said. “And we were able to trace star formation in the history of the universe, way back to the earliest galaxies, which were only a few percent of the age of the universe when they formed.”
In near-infrared, seemingly blank parts of sky appeared to light up with the evidence of distant galaxies, and no one expected that, Thompson said.
Astronomers found that many young stars have disks of dusty debris swirling around them, where planets form.
“When Hubble was launched (in 1990), no one knew about a single planet outside of our solar system,” said Tom Brown, the Hubble Mission Head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland.
Astronomers found exoplanets in the 1990s using other telescopes, but Hubble was able to do groundbreaking science by following up on those observations and study exoplanet atmospheres.
Hubble’s firsts in exoplanet science include measuring another planet’s atmosphere, confirming the oldest known exoplanet, detecting the first organic molecule on an exoplanet and the first changes in an exoplanet atmosphere. Today, exoplanet science accounts for 20% of the telescope’s observational time.
The telescope has enabled the mapping of dark matter, even though dark matter is invisible.
“Dark matter is a mysterious substance that makes up most of the matter in the universe, but we don’t know what it is and can’t observe it because it doesn’t emit observable radiation,” Wiseman said. “But we know it’s there because of gravitational effects.”
“Hubble is being used to map out where dark matter is and its effects through gravitational lensing.”
Gravitational lensing has also allowed Hubble to look deeper into the early days of the universe. It occurs when clusters of galaxies create a distorting gravitational field that acts as a natural, giant magnifying glass for the distant galaxies beyond Hubble’s viewing capability.
Hubble also enabled astronomers to realize that galaxies tend to merge with one another, capturing dramatic images of these mergers unfolding across the universe. That’s how our own Milky Way galaxy grew to its current size, through merging with smaller galaxies.
And Hubble is credited with helping astronomers realize that supermassive black holes are ubiquitous with centers of giant galaxies. Hubble was able to observe gas falling into galactic centers near the speed of light, which is now considered a fundamental understanding, Brown said.
“Thinking about universe as a whole, I believe Hubble opened our eyes to the recognition that galaxies have changed dramatically over cosmic time,” Wiseman said.
The future of Hubble
Hubble’s scientists believe that the telescope will keep operating through at least 2025, if not longer. This provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity because Hubble can overlap with new space-based telescopes coming online soon, like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope set to launch in 2021.
Webb is an infrared observatory. Together, their combined capabilities can provide a more complete picture of targets they observe. Webb will provide a more detailed look at exoplanets and their atmospheres and peer deeper into the earliest days of the universe than ever before.
Hubble continues to contribute to incredible discoveries and follows up on the detections and observations of other telescopes. For years, Hubble has been the perfect complement to NASA’s other Great Observatories, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the recently retired infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as ground-based observatories.
It’s been used to follow up on detections of gravitational waves and the explosions of neutron star collisions by LIGO and VIRGO, which are gravitational wave detectors.
“We’re getting a better scientific return now than ever before,” Wiseman said. “I’m excited about how it will be used in coming years for new discoveries and in complement with newer observatories.”
Depending on when Hubble concludes, this could leave a massive gap for scientists who depend on Hubble’s observations to do their work.
And when it comes to Hubble observations and its incredible images, “there’s no other game in town,” Brown said.
Hubble has provided 1.4 million observations over 30 years, fueling more than 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications with its data, “making it the most prolific space observatory in history,” according to NASA. And Hubble’s archival data will provide a wealth of scientific opportunity in the decades ahead.
For now, they have hope that the telescope will continue on for years, and maybe even decades, to come.
“It’s aging in a very graceful, well understood way and operating just as powerful as ever,” Brown said.
How the NFL made it to Super Bowl with no COVID-19 game cancellations – Axios
The NFL’s giant COVID-19 experiment ends Sunday with the improbable feat of an on-time Super Bowl, capping a season with no canceled games.
Why it matters: The season suggests that with the right resources, safety measures and cooperation — all of which have been lacking in the general U.S. response — life can go on during the pandemic without uncontrolled spread of the virus.
The big picture: The NFL decided early on that it wouldn’t require its thousands of players, coaches and other staff to live in a “bubble,” as other sports leagues had done.
- Instead, the league scaled up the public health basics of social distancing, testing, contact tracing and isolation across all 32 teams. To prevent spread, officials were prepared to postpone games or bench players.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, told Axios: “The approach we took was to appreciate that there was an expectation that individuals would get COVID — and what could we do to prevent it from spreading throughout our facilities.”
- “Our protocols were built on that premise — that living in our 32 communities during a pandemic was a risk, but we wanted to ensure that as best as possible we could prevent” virus spread.
Between the lines: Some of the NFL’s findings were published by the CDC — including what the league learned about transmission of the virus.
- The most important changes the league had to make over time related to “our evolution of what a high-risk contact was,” Miller said.
The league discovered that risky contacts with an infected person weren’t limited to 15-minute interactions within 6 feet. The definition instead became more complex, factoring in time, distance, ventilation and mask-wearing.
- “Those four factors all had an interplay within them, which was, in our experience, vastly more complicated than six feet and 15 minutes,” Miller said.
The bottom line: “We never saw the virus transmitted across the line of scrimmage,” Miller said — even when players who later tested positive participated in the game.
- The league was able to confirm this was the case through genetic sequencing.
Go deeper: Super Bowl preview
Coronavirus Variant First Found in Britain Now Spreading Rapidly in US – The New York Times
A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in Britain is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a new study.
Analyzing half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes, a team of researchers predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.
The new research offers the first nationwide look at the history of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, since it arrived in the United States in late 2020. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1.7 could become predominant by March if it behaved the way it did in Britain. The new study confirms that projected path.
“Nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it,” said Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March.”
Dr. Andersen’s team estimated that the transmission rate of B.1.1.7 in the United States is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of more common variants, although those figures may rise as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already been implicated in surges in other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.
“There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.”
Dr. Davies cautioned that U.S. data is patchier than that in Britain and other countries that have national variant monitoring systems. Still, he found results from some parts of the United States especially worrisome. In Florida, where the new study indicates the variant is spreading particularly quickly, Dr. Davies fears that a new surge may hit even sooner than the rest of the country.
“If these data are representative, there may be limited time to act,” he said.
Dr. Andersen and his colleagues posted their study online on Sunday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
When the British government announced the discovery of B.1.1.7 on Dec. 20, Dr. Andersen and other researchers in the United States began checking for it in American coronavirus samples. The first case turned up on Dec. 29 in Colorado, and Dr. Andersen found another soon after in San Diego. In short order it was spotted in many other parts of the country.
But it was difficult to determine just how widespread the variant was. B.1.1.7 contains a distinctive set of 23 mutations scattered in a genome that is 30,000 genetic letters long. The best way to figure out if a virus belongs to the B.1.1.7 lineage is to sequence its entire genome — a process that can be carried out only with special machines.
The C.D.C. contracted with Helix, a lab testing company, to examine their Covid-19 samples for signs of B.1.1.7. The variant can deliver a negative result on one of the three tests that Helix uses to find the coronavirus. For further analysis, Helix sent these suspicious samples to Illumina to have their genomes sequenced. Last month Helix reached out to Dr. Andersen and his colleagues to help analyze the data.
Analyzing 212 American B.1.1.7 genomes, Dr. Andersen’s team concluded that the variant most likely first arrived in the United States by late November, a month before it was detected.
The variant was separately introduced into the country at least eight times, most likely as a result of people traveling to the United States from Britain between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The researchers combined data from the genome sequencing with Helix’s overall test results to come up with an estimate of how quickly the variant had spread. It grew exponentially more common over the past two months.
In Florida, the scientists estimate that more than 4 percent of cases are now caused by B.1.1.7. The national figure may be 1 percent or 2 percent, according to his team’s calculations.
If that’s true, then a thousand or more people may be getting infected with the variant every day. The C.D.C. has recorded only 611 B.1.1.7 cases, attesting to the inadequacy of the country’s genomic surveillance.
In parts of the country where Helix doesn’t do much testing, it is likely delivering an underestimate of the spread, Dr. Andersen cautioned. “I can guarantee you that there are places where B.1.1.7 might be relatively prevalent by now that we would not pick up,” he said.
“There’s still a lot that we have to learn,” said Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study. “But these things are important enough that we have to start doing things now.”
It’s possible that chains of B.1.1.7 transmission are spreading faster than other viruses. Or it might be that B.1.1.7 was more common among incoming travelers starting new outbreaks.
“I still think that we are weeks away from really knowing how this will turn out,” Dr. Grubaugh said.
The contagiousness of B.1.1.7 makes it a threat to take seriously. Public health measures that work on other variants may not be enough to stop B.1.1.7. More cases in the United States would mean more hospitalizations, potentially straining hospitals that are only now recovering from record high numbers of patients last month.
Making matters worse, Dr. Davies and his colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a study online on Wednesday suggesting that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than it is for other variants. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.
Communities can take steps to fight variants like B.1.1.7, as Dr. Grubaugh and his Yale University colleagues recently described in the journal Cell. For instance, they said, health officials should reinforce messaging about wearing effective masks, avoiding large gatherings and making sure indoor spaces are well ventilated.
The scientists also urged governments to require sick leave for people diagnosed with Covid-19 to stop workplace spread. “Such measures could help to significantly reduce community transmission,” Dr. Grubaugh and his co-authors wrote.
Vaccinations can also be part of the strategy to fight B.1.1.7. In Israel, where the variant is now predominant, new cases, severe illnesses and hospitalizations have already dropped significantly in people over 65, a group that was given top priority for vaccines.
“What we need to do with the current vaccines is get them into as many people as we can as quickly as possible,” Dr. Andersen said.
Driving down B.1.1.7 will also reduce the risk that the variant will evolve into something even worse. Already in Britain, researchers have found samples of B.1.1.7 that have gained a new mutation with the potential to make vaccines less effective. It’s not clear whether these viruses will become common. But they demonstrate that the coronavirus has a lot of evolutionary space left to explore.
“We should expect them to crop up here,” Dr. Andersen said. “Whatever was true elsewhere is going to be true here as well, and we need to deal with it.”
Fifty years ago, Alan Shepard blasted from an endless sand trap and we just now found his ball – pennlive.com
The most widely watched golf shot in history did not occur in a major tournament. It wasn’t even in a PGA event. In fact, it did not take place on Earth. And, as it turns out, its distance has been embellished by legend.
It was a one-handed chip with a converted Wilson Staff 6-iron club head adapted to an aluminum moon rock sample scooper. And the golfer was Alan Shepard, first American in space, 5th man on the Moon.
Shepard hit two golf balls on live television exactly half a century ago yesterday at the end of the Apollo 14 moonwalk. Because of the portable TV camera’s perpendicular angle to the flight of the ball, exactly how far the shots went was left up to the commentary of the jocular original “Mercury seven” astronaut. The first one, he clearly duffed.
But the second one appeared to be nutted and Shepard suggested it might’ve gone “miles and miles!”
Well, not exactly. But who’s keeping track?
Nobody really, until a 46-year-old British imaging specialist named Andy Saunders used his skills to enhance the clarity of long-sequestered video and photography from Apollo 14 and other moon missions. And the results are nothing short of astounding.
Saunders’ painstaking work used both new digital and traditional photo techniques to improve the brightness, sharpness and contrast of the 5-decade-old Apollo moon program (1968-72) shots so that we now can see more clearly all sorts of details hidden before – from the desolate gray surface to obscured faces of astronauts behind their helmet visors to intricate features of the lunar landers and equipment to, yes, the exact position of Shepard’s two golf shots.
Saunders’ photographs will be available later this year in a book entitled Apollo Remastered, to be published by Penguin Random House. Some have been posted and can be seen on the publisher’s advance website, ApolloRemastered.com.
Being the son of an industrial engineer at Apollo command/service module subcontractor North American Rockwell, I grew up amid the wonder of the U.S. space program. So, I was eager to spend a half hour on Friday with Saunders by phone from his home in Culcheth, Cheshire county, England.
As Saunders explains it, the original and clearest film negatives were socked away in NASA cold storage until very recently:
“Somewhere in the last five years, they finally got the original flight film out of the freezer and scanned it to an incredible resolution in about 1.3-gigobyte file sizes. And every minute detail that was in that camera is on this digital file.”
For someone like Saunders – a space nut since childhood who had developed considerable skill with image enhancing – this was like a gift from heaven.
“But of course, in an analog world, with photochemical processing, they weren’t designed for digital; they were designed to have light shining through them onto paper or in projection. So, you need to digitally enhance them to get the best out of them. And that’s what I’ve been using.”
Considering the advances in digital enhancement technology just over the past decade, this offered a unique opportunity to significantly clarify some of the most important images in human history.
So, how far did those 6-iron shots go in one-sixth gravity? That’s been a subject of hyperbolic conjecture, not just a little encouraged by the playful Shepard before his death in 1998.
We’ll get to that. But first some background on how Shepard managed to golf on Earth’s sand trap satellite in the first place. He had been seeded with the idea by an offhand crack from Bob Hope during the comedian’s visit to the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston in 1970. The idea stuck with Shepard when he was slated for Apollo 14 later that year.
Shepard tells the entire story of the lunar golf shot at 1:02:30 of an 88-minute interview with former NBC spaceflight correspondent and Philadelphia native Roy Neal conducted in 1998, five months before the astronaut’s death from leukemia:
“I was an avid golfer. And before the flight, I was intrigued that a ball, with the same clubhead speed, would go six times as far and it’s time of flight would be at least six times as long. It would not curve, because there’s no atmosphere to make it slice or hook.
“So, I thought: What a neat place to whack a golf ball.”
When Shepard approached NASA manned spaceflight director Bob Gilruth with his idea, the response was immediate and emphatic: Forget about it. But Shepard persisted with an explanation: The only extra cargo was the clubhead, crafted by a pro he knew in Houston, plus a couple of golf balls:
“Which I paid for myself,” Shepard added with puckish grin. “No taxpayer expense.”
All of that would be left on the lunar surface. If anything at all went amiss during either of two 4½-hour extravehicular activities (EVA) on the Moon, Shepard agreed he wouldn’t do it. If everything went as planned, he’d hit a couple of balls at the very end of the second EVA on Feb. 6, 1971, climb up the ladder with partner and lunar module pilot Ed Mitchell and close the hatch.
In other words, it was sort of the mic drop of the show. And by that point in the Apollo program – with moon missions incredibly becoming old hat more than two years after the first lunar orbit of Apollo 8, and 18 months after the first manned landing of Apollo 11 – the show mattered. Gilruth relented.
As it turned out, all went swimmingly with Shepard and Mitchell’s EVA, so out came the modified club head and two balls the commander had stowed in a pocket in his suit. He snapped it on the moonrock scooper, tossed a ball in the dust and addressed it with some great flair.
Shepard knew from trying out his flexibility in the bulky suit during training that there was no way he could either manage much of a backswing or keep both gloved hands on the scooper handle. His vision was also limited by inability to bend his neck much inside the EVA helmet. So, he used his right hand only and tried a sort of flick at the ball like a gardener whacking weeds with a scythe.
His first stroke at the first ball barely moved it. The second try was shanked and obviously didn’t go far, prompting a mocking reaction from Mitchell. But after the third and final try, on a second ball, Shepard exclaimed as if he was Lee Trevino admiring a perfect drive: “Miles and miles and miles!” That’s the shot viewers imagined might’ve flown on and on, unencumbered by atmosphere.
Saunders has been working on all the Apollo moon footage for years now. Some of the results are stunning. In one, you can now clearly see Neil Armstrong’s face behind his visor, a rare shot anyway because he had the still camera for most of the EVA and almost all the lunar shots you see of Apollo 11 are of lunar module pilot and fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.
So, the Apollo 14 enhancement is only part of a massive project. But the Shepard golf ball search was an obvious attraction:
“Before, maybe you could find a golf ball in the old quality. It looked a bit like a rock even in the new high-res scans. But [now] you could zoom in so far, because they were in such high resolution, and process them hard enough that you could tell – that was definitely a golf ball.”
Saunders was able to find and triangulate the position of both balls using frontal and lateral still photos from the portable lunar camera and overhead photos from the video camera atop the ascent stage of the lunar module as it blasted off to return to the command module.
The conclusion: Shepard’s first shot went 24 yards. The landing spot of his second one, which had never before been glimpsed, was not in fact “miles and miles” away, as most who knew Shepard’s mischievous nature pretty much suspected – but a mere 40 yards.
Another tall golf tale. Saunders gives him all credit regardless:
“One-handed, quarter swing, can’t see properly, with that giant backpack on, hitting from effectively the biggest sand trap in the solar system? Well done.”
Theoretically, how far could a golf ball be driven on the moon by some bomber such as Bryson DeChambeau, given a hypothetical future in which humans could be protected from the extreme lunar temperatures in formfitting coveralls we can’t imagine today, maybe at some sort of sheltered lunar Topgolf franchise? Saunders did the math and says Shepard’s exaggeration would no longer be one: about 3.41 miles.
Alan Shepard was a man of myriad accomplishments including uncommon bravery as both a jet fighter test pilot, not to mention his mounting a Redstone rocket in 1961, previous editions of which had blown up on the pad, to be first American to ride the fire into space.
Yet, nuttily enough, he is still possibly best known 23 years after his death for being the only Moon golfer.
He probably wouldn’t mind, as he later affirmed of that 6-iron from a bad lie:
“It was designed to be a fun thing. Fortunately, it was a fun thing.”
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