Editor’s Report: 20 Years of SkyNews and 20 Years of Hubble

Two anniversaries worth celebrating.

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The Hubble Space Telescope was launched by the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. But it required some crucial early repairs, and not until 1994 did it begin to deliver jaw-dropping images of deep space, such as the portrait of M16 (below). Because the giant columns of cosmic gas and dust are crucibles of star birth, NASA dubbed the image “Pillars of Creation.”

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Pillars of Creation image, the imaging team at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland, captured a new version (below right) using the third-generation camera, which was installed on the orbiting telescope by space shuttle astronauts in 2009. With twice the field of view and roughly twice the resolution, this portrait deserves prominent display.

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The famous Pillars of Creation image shot by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, above, was reprised in late 2014, right, by a new camera installed on the big orbiting telescope by space shuttle astronauts. Courtesy NASA

Another recent example from the Hubble Telescope’s lavish cosmic portfolio can be seen on page 10 of the May/June issue. The simultaneous passage of the shadows of three of the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter is a once- or twice-a-decade event that has never before been seen this clearly.

One more Hubble example is the Lens Galaxy, NGC5866. Here, we see what is probably a spiral galaxy viewed exactly edge-on. Once again, more detail is visible in this image than has been revealed by any other telescope. This is especially true when compared with the visual appearance in a telescope. Recalling my last peek at NGC5866 in my 10-inch reflector a couple of years ago, I saw a haze with a small, darkish dash at its middle indicating the dust lane. I was happy just to be able to detect that across the 50-million-light-year gulf between Earth and this galaxy. And that’s the lure of recreational astronomy — actually seeing the universe for real.

The Hubble Space Telescope’s high-powered eye on the universe and its accompanying discoveries have, fortuitously, almost exactly paralleled the two-decade span of SkyNews. I believe that Hubble has, more than anything else, bolstered interest in astronomy in the 21st century.

Editor Terence Dickinson invites your comments and astronomy-related observations and photos, which can be directed to him at dickinsonSkyNews@gmail.com.

Check out the May/June issue of SkyNews (on newsstands now) for an expanded version of Terence Dickinson’s Editor’s Report.

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