HST SM4: Hubble’s Science Legacy

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HST SM4: Hubble’s Science Legacy
08.29.08
 
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Sara Seager, Astronomer, MIT: Hubble laid the groundwork that you can do things in space with a telescope that wasn’t planned to do that observation. We have pushed the instruments to a level that wasn’t expected, even by the people who build the instrument. Hubble has made huge advances in this field of planets orbiting other stars. And in particular, Hubble made the first discovery of an atmosphere around another planet outside of our solar system.

Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy, University of California Berkley: For the first time in history, we were studying the chemical composition of other planets. And of course, that really is the bright future of extra solar planets. Learning their nature and especially learning whether they have signs of life on them.

Marcia Rieke, Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona: If there were no Hubble, we would have known from some of these repetitive measurements on the ground, that there are planets orbiting other stars but most of the ones known would be ones very close into the star, closer than Mercury is to the Sun… which means they’re very hot planets... not places you’d care to visit.

Heidi Hammel, Astronomer, Space Science Institute: We learned a lot about the outer solar system from the Voyager flybys in the mid 1980s, but they really just gave us a quick snapshot of planets that really turn out to be really very dynamic. Hubble has provided some of the most spectacular imaging of outer planets that we’ve been able to get aside from sending a spacecraft there. Its fabulous resolution allows us to see details in cloud patterns. It allows us to study the moons and the ring systems of these outer planets with unprecedented detail. It’s really been a workhorse for the outer solar system astronomy program.

Sandra Faber, Professor of Astronomy, University of California: We know that the galaxy is there based on a ground-based picture, but it’s a blob. Hubble is able to take pictures of the galaxy and not only a single picture, but sharp pictures at a whole bunch of different wavelengths. And every wavelength has a different story to tell. Hubble will be remembered for discovering black holes in nearby galaxies, taking the first high-resolution pictures of the early universe, and I think for many contributions on star formation.

Tommaso Treu, Astronomer, California Institute of Technology: We as scientists should learn from the Hubble experience that it’s very important that we communicate to the public what we do. And Hubble has done a really good job at that. I mean it’s easy because they’re stunning pictures. But is also a lot of work that goes into that.

Sandra Faber, Professor of Astronomy, University of California: In some perverse way, Hubble’s impact has been heightened by the fact that it went through trouble. That brought it to the public’s attention and the fix was dramatic and involved a human interest element that makes the telescope larger than life. It’s more than just a telescope for the average person. It also becomes a symbol of American know-how.

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