Nasa to give Hubble new view of universe

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Improvements will allow telescope to see almost as far back as the Big Bang

It is not so much a journey through time, more a mission to buy more time for a telescope which has provided a glimpse of the distant past. Later today, Shuttle astronauts will blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida for a mission to the Hubble Space Telescope designed to keep it working for at least another five years.

In the 18 years since Hubble was launched, the space telescope has astounded scientists and the public with its amazing views of the nearest as well as the most distant objects in the visible universe. It has lasted so long precisely because it was designed to be repaired and serviced.

One of the Hubble telescope's greatest achievements has been its ability to see objects that are billions of light years from Earth. Seeing so far away is equivalent to seeing back in time because light from the furthest reaches of the known Universe has taken billions of years to reach the telescope's orbit around Earth.

Now the fifth and final servicing mission should see the telescope continue its groundbreaking observa-tions until 2014, and possibly beyond, providing everything goes as planned when the shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to take off from Kennedy Space Centre at 6pm BST today.

A range of new instruments to replace old, worn-out ones will give the Hubble a new lease of life, enabling it to improve its powers of observation by between 10 and 30 times. One improvement will enable it to see even deeper into space, and so further back in time, to a point when the first galaxies formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

"We can already see back about 13 billion years but this is not the most interesting time in the history of the Universe. We hope with the new Hubble instruments to go back to within 300 or 400 million years after the Big Bang and so see the galaxies themselves being born," said Kim Weaver, an astrophysicist at Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"We hope to get a picture of the earliest possible galaxies soon after or during their formation. We've not been able to do this before, but after the servicing mission this should be possible," Dr Weaver said.

The mission involves five space walks each lasting about six-and-a-half hours. Some repairs involve intricate operations involving the painstaking removal of up to 100 screws. "It's more like brain surgery than construction. Hubble spacewalks are comparable to standing at an operating table, doing very dextrous work," said shuttle flight director Tony Ceccacci.

One of the most important repairs will be replacement of the guidance sensors to hold the telescope steady over long periods of time so it can see into the darkest recesses of space. These sensors point the Hubble telescope with a precision comparable to firing a laser beam from London on to a penny in Liverpool – 200 miles away.

Seeing stars Hubble's greatest achievements

* Hubble recorded the oldest visible objects in space, dating to shortly after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. Light from one of the objects in the million-second-long exposure started its journey to Earth about 700 million years after the Big Bang.

*In 2002, a dull star known as V838 Mons in an obscure constellation became the brightest star in the Milky Way. The "light echo" of this event, captured by Hubble, is so unique it may represent a transitory stage in a star's evolution, making it a rarely observed phenomenon.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week