Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hubble Got'chu!

Jimmy Fallon marks the 20th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, possibly the most productive instrument in the history of science since Newton's pen.

It's easy to take Hubble's images for granted, and even easier not to care at all. But the telescope's been a champ, operating years past its design life and hopefully for many more. With the coming retirement of the space shuttle fleet, its days are surely numbered; someday, something will break and we won't have any way to go fix it. Let's treasure it while we can.

I know two things about Hubble most people don't:

1. I once had a parakeet named Hubble, but that was way back before the telescope. I named it for Edwin Hubble, who also gave the scope its name. What can I say, I'm a fan. Mean bird, though.

2. You may recall that Hubble has a flawed primary mirror, a fact not discovered until after it was launched. Corrective optics (basically, a bunch of little curved mirrors) were installed, and the telescope went on to have a stellar (heh) career. The original mirror was manufactured by Perkin-Elmer, which somehow neglected to do simple tests that even an amateur mirror grinder would've used to easily spot the mistake. It was a huge blunder.

When Hubble lifted off, I was working as an inorganic chemist in an environmental lab, where I used Perkin-Elmer instruments (graphite furnaces and an ICP, for those in the know). I remember how proud our Perkin-Elmer service reps were before Hubble's launch, bragging about how they'd made the mirror (though they personally had nothing to do with it), and how abashed they were when its humiliating flaws were found. Of course we spent the next several years giving those poor guys grief about their crummy optics and obviously shoddy workmanship. "Hey, don't put any of those Hubble mirrors in my machine!" I'm sure they got tired of it, but I never did.

Congrats to Hubble and its designers (even Perkin-Elmer), operators, researchers, and owners (hey, that's us taxpayers!) for more than 110,000 orbits completed and many more to come, I hope.


Anonymous said...

I noticed that no one commented, but I really liked the post. I'd forgotten about the BIRD... but now that you mention it I remember it being a mean one!
; )
Nurse Sis

Brian Fies said...