April 23, 2010, 3:46 PM — After 20 years aloft, the Hubble Space Telescope is more powerful than ever and poised to help scientists figure out more of the big mysteries of the universe.
The Hubble, launched into orbit on April 24, 1990, has since been one of the greatest tool for the world's astronomers. For example, it played a key role in discovering that the universe, driven by a mysterious force called dark energy , is expanding at an ever accelerating rate.
Hubble also has been critical in helping scientists discover that most of the known galaxies in the universe contain massive black holes.
Some of the discoveries credited to Hubble during its 20 years in orbit are so important that academics had to revise astronomy textbooks. Many of those resulted from deep photographs of the universe taken from Hubble, along with its captured images of the birth and death of stars.
NASA also credits the telescope with helping scientists calculate that the universe is 13.7 billion years old.
Malcolm Niedner, NASA's observatory project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, told Computerworld today that Hubble's most important work may still be ahead of it.
"It's still incredibly exciting and rewarding," said Niedner. "It's stronger now than ever before. It has more scientific capability than ever before -- Hubble is still cutting edge."
NASA said its future plans for Hubble include collecting data about distant star formations, as well as about galaxies at the edge of the universe.
Niedner noted that the telescope will also continue peering back into cosmic history and the most distnt universes.
Last fall, Hubble snapped panoramic, full-color images that astronomers have used to see galaxies as they were billions of years ago. By early this year, those images had been stitched together to show 7,500 galaxies stretching back through most of the universe's history.
The telescope can take on additional projects because of updates installed there by the crew of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis when it landed there there in the spring of 2009. The astronauts replaced all six of the Hubble's gyroscopes and all six of its batteries, along with a computer unit that had failed in the fall of 2008.