Skip to main content

Hubble Space Telescope restored and active following synchronization issue

After an error that occurred in late October forced it into safe mode, the Hubble Space Telescope is now back up and running at full strength.

Hubble suffered an issue with the communications between its computers and instruments on October 25, when several synchronization messages were lost. To prevent any damage to its instruments, the telescope automatically went into safe mode in which only the basic essential parts of the telescope functioned. That meant that it stopped collecting science data while engineers on the ground figured out what had gone wrong.

Throughout November, the Hubble team analyzed the issue and tested out the problems by turning on an older, unused instrument. This allowed them to perform a test without endangering the currently active instruments which Hubble still needs to use.

As that test didn’t throw up any more errors, the team elected to turn on each of Hubble’s four currently active instruments one at a time. With no more missed synchronization messages, they turned on the final instrument — the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph — this week.

“NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope team recovered the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph on Monday, December 6, and is now operating with all four active instruments collecting science. The team has still not detected any further synchronization message issues since monitoring began November 1,” NASA wrote in an update.

NASA also explained that its Hubble team has a plan to prevent similar issues from happening again in the future, by allowing the instruments to continue operating even if a few synchronization messages are lost. To make this change, they will gradually make tweaks to Hubble’s software over the next few months, beginning in the next weeks.

“The team will continue work on developing and testing changes to instrument software that would allow them to conduct science operations even if they encounter several lost synchronization messages in the future,” the update said. “The first of these changes is scheduled to be installed on the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph in mid-December. The other instruments will receive similar updates in the coming months.”

This was the second time this year that Hubble has been in trouble, with an issue with its computer causing it to enter safe mode this summer as well.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Hubble discovers over 1,000 new asteroids thanks to photobombing
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the barred spiral galaxy UGC 12158 looks like someone took a white marking pen to it. In reality it is a combination of time exposures of a foreground asteroid moving through Hubble’s field of view, photobombing the observation of the galaxy. Several exposures of the galaxy were taken, which is evidenced by the dashed pattern.

The Hubble Space Telescope is most famous for taking images of far-off galaxies, but it is also useful for studying objects right here in our own solar system. Recently, researchers have gotten creative and found a way to use Hubble data to detect previously unknown asteroids that are mostly located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The researchers discovered an incredible 1,031 new asteroids, many of them small and difficult to detect with several hundred of them less than a kilometer in size. To identify the asteroids, the researchers combed through a total of 37,000 Hubble images taken over a 19-year time period, identifying the tell-tale trail of asteroids zipping past Hubble's camera.

Read more
Hubble spots a bright galaxy peering out from behind a dark nebula
The subject of this image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the spiral galaxy IC 4633, located 100 million light-years away from us in the constellation Apus. IC 4633 is a galaxy rich in star-forming activity and also hosts an active galactic nucleus at its core. From our point of view, the galaxy is tilted mostly towards us, giving astronomers a fairly good view of its billions of stars.

A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a galaxy partly hidden by a huge cloud of dust known as a dark nebula. The galaxy IC 4633 still shines brightly and beautifully in the main part of the image, but to the bottom right, you can see dark smudges of dust that are blocking the light from this part of the galaxy.

Taken using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instrument, the image also incorporates data from the DECam instrument on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, which is located in Chile. By bringing together data from the space-based Hubble and the ground-based DECam, astronomers can get a better look at this galaxy, located 100 million light-years away, and the dark dust partially obscuring it.

Read more
Euclid space telescope’s vision cleared thanks to deicing
An artist's impression of ESA’s Euclid mission in space.

The Euclid Space Telescope is back to full operational capabilities after a deicing procedure removed small amounts of water ice from its mirror. As announced last week, some of the instruments on the European Space Agency (ESA) telescope were impeded by the buildup of ice due to water that got into the telescope from the atmosphere during its construction. This water was gradually released over time as the telescope was in space and froze in place.

Even though the ice was less than a nanometer thick, it was enough to impact the highly sensitive VISible instrument (VIS). Now, a mirror on the telescope has been gently warmed and the ice has melted away.

Read more