Object 1: Hubble Space Telescope

June 2, 2021


The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was built by NASA and launched into low earth orbit in 1990. It is currently the most powerful telescope in the world, meaning that it is relied on and valued as the best source of accurate and precise data collected from space telescopes.

This telescope is very interesting for this exhibition because it is used for space observation, which is generally hard to do from a distance. The greater the distance between the observer and the object being observed, the longer it takes for the light reflected off that object to reach the observer, for example it takes 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach the space telescope, so the sun we see through it is from 8 minutes ago. As science writer Timothy Ferris said “Everything we see in the sky belongs to the past”2. This applies to the HST, even though it can see 10-15 billion light years away, it is still seeing 10-15 billion years ago, so what we see is certainly what has happened, but it is far from the present reality. Therefore, we have no way of knowing for certain what is happening in deep space right now unless it is flung right in front of us.

The telescope also enriches this exhibition because of its label, ‘The most powerful telescope in the world’. Currently NASA is building the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) which will be 10 times stronger than the HST. For 30 years now the HST has been the planets most trustworthy telescope. It may see the past, but it gives a clear picture of what has happened at the far reaches of space. If the GMT will be 10 times stronger, then we cannot be certain if any image that HST has taken is even close to clear, or if the GMT will give the true picture either because there will be a telescope 10 times stronger. We have no way of knowing if we have attained certainty.

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