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Hubble takes first image since switching to new pointing mode

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope features the galaxy NGC 1546.
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of the galaxy NGC 1546. NASA, ESA, STScI, David Thilker (JHU)

The Hubble Space Telescope has been through some troubles of late, and the way that it operates had to be changed recently to compensate for some degraded hardware. The telescope’s three gyros, which help it to switch between different targets in the sky, have been experiencing issues, with one in particular frequently failing over recent months. NASA made the decision recently to change the way that Hubble points, and it now uses just one gyro at a time instead of all three in order to preserve the two remaining gyros for as long as possible.

This change means that Hubble will now be slower to switch between targets, and there are some targets (like objects very close to Earth) that it won’t be able to observe any more. But the upside is that Hubble is still working and producing gorgeous images of space — including the image above, which is one of the first taken since Hubble switched to its new mode.

As well as demonstrating that Hubble is still alive and well and able to keep doing science, the image shows the nearby galaxy of NGC 1546 and the dramatic lanes of dust that swirl around the galaxy’s center. The dust takes on a reddish-brown color due to the light filtering through from the bright galaxy center, which glows in yellow. The blue areas in this image are where young, hot stars are forming.

“Hubble’s new image of a spectacular galaxy demonstrates the full success of our new, more stable pointing mode for the telescope,” said Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for Hubble at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement. “We’re poised now for many years of discovery ahead, and we’ll be looking at everything from our solar system to exoplanets to distant galaxies. Hubble plays a powerful role in NASA’s astronomical toolkit.”

Hubble is now more than 30 years old, as it was launched in 1990. It has had various challenges and fixes over the years, most notably when it was first launched and a tiny flaw in its primary mirror caused all of its images to come out blurry. That was fixed by sending a team of astronauts on a space shuttle mission to visit the telescope. There were a total of five servicing missions, with the most recent occurring in 2009,. Since then, all maintenance to Hubble has been performed remotely from the ground.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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