Jennifer Wiseman Interview



Hubble is profoundly significant I think for humanity. We work together, we launched this telescope that's now in orbit that's now in orbit Earth and has been in orbit for 25 years revealing things about the universe that we never knew before. So because of Hubble we been able to learn about other galaxies and even the expansion of the entire universe and details about our own neighborhood and solar system with detail that we could never have had before. It was hoped from the outset that Hubble would help us understand how fast the universe was stretching apart and it has done that. But one surprise is that in recent years Hubble along with ground based telescopes have been used to determine that expansion rate is actually getting faster that expansion rate is actually getting faster, it's accelerating. Something we call "dark energy" is pushing the universe apart, that's a big unexpected surprise. We're also doing things with Hubble that are innovative that weren't planned from the outset. One is, we're using Hubble to study the atmosphere's of planets outside our own solar system. So we have only known for a few years now that there are planets outside our solar system Hubble has not made most of those discoveries of exoplanets but what Hubble is doing is analyzing the composition of some of those atmosphere of exoplanets. And that's a very innovative use of Hubble. Hubble, even after 25 years is actually working as well or better then ever and the reason that is the case is that the last servicing mission that astronauts did in 2009 was very successful. We were able through their hard work and hard work of many many people on the ground to install 2 brand new state of the art instruments. A new camera, a new spectrograph, and also the astronauts repaired another camera and spectrograph already on the observatory. So now we have this full suite of several science instruments. We also have good batteries and gyroscopes all the things we need to keep the telescope pointing and operating stability. So we can get better science now from Hubble then ever before. In fact, scientist around the world are proposing to use Hubble at the highest rates ever in recent years. So, Hubble is bringing excellent science and we anticipate this for several years to come. I think Hubble has become a cultural icon because the beautiful images that it sends down and one thing I'm pleased that NASA has done and also the European Space Agency is to make these images easily available to the public. This is an image taken by pointing Hubble at a relatively boring position in the sky where there aren't any nearby star or galaxies and Hubble was allowed to collect light for days on end, so you could see the faintest galaxies and faintest objects. What appeared in that image were thousands of galaxies, most of them never discovered before and that's just in a soda straw area of the sky. If you imagine these galaxies extrapolated around the whole sky, you get a visual image for how many galaxies there are. We are always getting surprised by what we are discovering with Hubble. We are now looking into the atmospheres of exoplanets. These are planets outside our solar system. Nobody ever envisioned that for Hubble when it was first launched. We are able to watch and see how things change in our own solar system, we're able to see how planets and comets change, sometimes on a daily basis. That's very exciting and we are able to compare the make up of extremely distant galaxies, with galaxies like our own, using Hubble's sensitive cameras and spectrographs. Different kinds of telescopes have different strengths and capabilites, so Hubble is very good at doing observations in visible optical light and some what into near infered light and ultraviolet light. But Hubble is not capable of looking far into infered light into these reddened and lower energy light forms that are sometimes emitted from objects especially distant galaxies. The James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched in 2018, will be an infered observatory and it will be able to see galaxies that are farther away then what Hubble can see. It will also be able to peer into some of these dusty regions around stars where we think dusty regions around stars where we think planets form. So James Webb will pick up on some of the science that Hubble has revealed and take us a little bit farther. So we're excited about James Webb and we hope it will overlap with Hubble some years.