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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing specialist merchant co...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'