By Samantha Snead
On September 23, Dr. Jennifer Wiseman spoke about the Hubble Space Telescope. Wiseman began by giving a brief overview of the telescope’s abilities and how those abilities have changed in the 24 years since its initial launch. Its capabilities are far superior to those of its predecessors, enabling it to capture pictures of distant and faint objects in space that were previously unseen. The Hubble Space Telescope orbits just above the atmosphere to ensure clear photographs that aren’t blocked by clouds, and is around the size of a school bus.
Wiseman gave an interactive and entertaining lecture, and at one point showed a video of the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which she witnessed firsthand. Later, she projected an image of the Hubble Deep Field, and asked audience members to describe what they saw. There were red, blue, and white stars of varied intensities and sizes. Then she zoomed out of the picture until the small area was no longer distinguishable from its surroundings to show just how vast the known universe truly is. She gave mind-blowing statistics to further demonstrate this, including the current belief that there are over 500 billion galaxies and 700,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (how’s that for shock value?) stars within them. She explained that because there is a delay from the time light is emitted to the time it is visible from earth’s position, photographs taken of the universe show it as it was in the past. More sensitive telescopes allow astronomers to see further back in time. The universe is estimated to be around 13.8 billion years old, and, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers are now seeing stars as they were in the first 1 billion years of the universe’s existence.
In closing, Wiseman supplied some data for answering the question of whether or not life exists somewhere else in the universe. She said that NASA has discovered over 1,100 stars in our galaxy that have potentially habitable, earth-sized planets. The signs of life that astronomers look for include evidence of oxygen, liquid water, and biological activity, and they also analyze the reflected light to determine the nature of the planet’s atmosphere. In Wiseman’s belief, astronomers are getting closer and closer to finding an answer to the question of whether or not life exists beyond earth. For now, NASA is continually looking forward in anticipation of the next mission: an even more powerful telescope, the James-Webb Telescope, which is set to launch in 2018.