Look Back at Hubble Space Telescope's 'First Light' Image From 1990

Look Back at Hubble Space Telescope’s ‘First Light’ Image From 1990

The image on the left was captured by a ground-based telescope in Chile, whereas the image on the right was captured by Hubble’s much sharper “first light” view of the same stars. NASA/ESA/STScl

In celebration of Webb’s first major image release, here’s Hubble’s starry-eyed view from decades ago.

The excitement this week is for the arrival of the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope on Monday and Tuesday. Webb is the hot new item, but don’t forget about the Hubble Space Telescope, which is still in operation. This is the perfect time to gaze back at its “first light” image from 1990.

Hubble has been studying the universe for over three decades. The first-light view was a wow moment at the time because it showed the kind of clarity the new observatory could achieve compared to ground-based telescopes. Hubble’s image of stars, as seen by the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, was shared by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The double star towards the top of Hubble’s version is notable. In the Chilean telescope’s shot, it’s a big blur. In Hubble’s, there are clearly two stars. The “smearing effect of Earth’s atmosphere” affects ground-based telescopes. Telescopes in space are able to avoid this problem.

Hubble’s shot came from its Wide Field/Planetary Camera during a preparation phase prior to its serious science observations. “The first image taken with Hubble was intended to assist in focusing the telescope,” said NASA in a look back at Hubble’s history. It is comparable to a Webb test image that was revealed last week. In 30 years, we’ve come a long way.

NASA announced shortly after the first-light photograph that there was an imperfection in Hubble’s primary mirror, which caused images to blur. The telescope overcame its rocky start thanks to a servicing mission in 1993 during which spacewalking astronauts installed corrective equipment.

A space shuttle mission in 1993 fixed Hubble’s eyes. Spiral galaxy M100 is seen in before (left) and after (right) images. NASA

As it looks into the deep history of the universe, Webb is likely to rock the astronomy world with unprecedented new views. While Hubble has had its share of problems over the years, it is still producing amazing images and data, and NASA believes it will continue to operate even while Webb shakes up our understanding of space.

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