Bad Astronomy

Happy birthday, HST!

On April 24, 1990, Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space. I was in graduate school, having just finished my masters degree, and was looking for a PhD project. What timing! Hubble launched, and I hooked up with a team observing Supernova 1987A. After I got my degree, I continued to work with Hubble, calibrating and using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS.

After 16 years, and a few bumps in the road orbit, Hubble is still up there and observing the distant cosmos. The image above is of a weird galaxy called M82, which was once thought – understandably– to be exploding; the image was released to celebrate Hubble’s 16th anniversary in space. It’s now understood that M82 is undergoing a period of intense star formation, and the red junk you see in the image is gas and dust being expelled by the combined solar winds of millions of newborn stars.

Hubble has been an amazing observatory, and will continue to be for some time. There have been more space telescopes launched since Hubble, but it will always be remembered as the one that put astronomy into the consciousness of America and the world.’