What Is Going on With the Hubble Telescope?

Earlier this month, the computer that controls the Hubble Space Telescope suddenly went down and NASA is still trying to figure out why.

Despite attempting to fix the computer three times, NASA engineers aren’t having any luck and are starting to see this incident as one that is mysterious and potentially intentional.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit by a space shuttle named Discovery on April 24, 1990. Its job is to photograph planets, stars and galaxies, which have led to over a million observations and discoveries.

Over the years, it has captured things such as the death and birth of stars, galaxies that are billions of light-years away and comet pieces crashing into Jupiter. See below for some of the most beautiful sights captured by the telescope.


composite mosaic of the Orion Nebula created in 2006 using Hubble data
Orion Nebula, 2006. Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team


Hubble observations of Carina Nebula section
 Dubbed “Mystic Mountain,” this is a region of the much more extensive Carina Nebula. In it, towers of cool hydrogen gas laced with dust are seen to rise along the nebula’s wall. At the top, a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust is being eaten away by the brilliant light and winds from nearby stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming left and right from the tips of the peaks. Credits: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)


The Crab Nebula
 M1, the Crab Nebula, is the remnant of a stellar explosion that was seen in the year 1054 AD. The colors in the image were assigned to distinguish various chemical elements, which are now all racing into space to enrich new generations of stars. Credits: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

Not only are these photos beautiful to look at, but they’ve also helped build our understanding of space to where it is today and have given us the foundation to build upon our space technology and understanding of the universe.

Hubble is solar-powered, orbits at about 540 kilometres above Earth, is the length of a large school bus and weighs about as much as two adult elephants. It also travels at 5 miles per second, which translates to almost 30,000 kilometres p/h.

The computer in question was built in the 1980s and it acts as the telescope’s brain; controlling and monitoring instruments on the Hubble spacecraft.

NASA engineers are currently at work, trying to analyse and fix the Hubble’s computer. Although they’re not really sure what went wrong, initial data indicated that the issue could stem from a computer-memory module that was degrading, so they tried switching to one of its three backup modules, without any luck.

The team then tried to bring both the current module and backup online, both of which failed.

According to an update released by NASA, the Hubble team “will be running tests and collecting more information on the system to further isolate the problem”, while the Hubble is being kept in its “safe-mode” in order to protect the beloved instrument.

As of yet, nothing is wrong with the telescope itself, just its computer.

The good news? NASA’s 31-year-old satellite has a backup computer, which engineers can resort to if the crashed computer has gone beyond repair. After a week of trouble-shooting and “no definitive timeline” or answer for the Hubble being fixed, this might be the only option.

We wish it all the best for a speedy recovery.

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