Editorial Feature

Telescopes, Nasa's Chandra Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope, Advanced Optics Technology Imaging Deep Space

Chandra X-Ray Observatory
The Hubble Space Telescope
Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET)
Next Generation Space Telescope
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Many different forms of telescope exist. The differences determine to power of the telescope and the applications they are used for. This article examines some of the different forms of telescope controlled by NASA.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory

X rays are a high-energy wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum. Many stars, supernova, quasars and galaxies emit x rays, so observing these objects in that wavelength will reveal much about them.

The Chandra Observatory (formerly called the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility–AXAF) the world’s most powerful x-ray telescope, was launched on July 23, 1999, to view x-ray sources from space. Astronomers must have this observatory in space because the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and blocks celestial x-ray radiation from reaching the ground.

Chandra flies 200 times higher than the Hubble Space Telescope and its orbit takes it one-third of the way to the Moon. The cylindrical glass mirrors in the Chandra are the largest of their kind and the smoothest ever created. Chandra and its upper stage was the heaviest payload ever launched on the Space Shuttle.

The Chandra design and development program was managed by MSFC. The observatory’s telescope was tested and certified at the MSFC X-Ray Calibration Facility.

Figure 1. Chandra X-Ray Observatory (Image source NASA)

The Hubble Space Telescope

A new era in astronomy began as Space Shuttle astronauts released the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit on April 26, 1990. With its vantage point above Earth’s atmosphere Hubble has shown the birth and death of stars, colliding galaxies, stellar plumes, gas rings, nebula clouds, comet impacts on Jupiter, and storms on Saturn, all with greater clarity and brightness than humans have ever seen before. Hubble is fulfilling its mission to collect knowledge and discover a new perspective of the universe.

The Hubble telescope uses a Cassegrain reflector system that has a hyperbolic-shaped mirror. The design is optimized for focusing the visible spectrum. The development and assembly of the Hubble was directed by MSFC.

Figure 2. Hubble Space Telescope (Image source NASA)

Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET)

The Hobby-Eberly telescope (HET) near Ft. Davis, Texas, is a 9-meter diameter telescope tailored for spectroscopy. It has a special mirror with 91 segments and features an innovative, low-cost tracking system. MSFC is designing a mirror Segment Alignment Maintenance System on the HET to improve the mirror performance.

Figure 3. Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET). (Image source NASA)

Next Generation Space Telescope

The next space telescopes larger than Hubble will have to be made with special lightweight mirrors. MSFC is testing new materials and assembly techniques to make giant reflectors that will fold up for launch and then open in space. These telescopes will be big enough to allow scientists to see Earth-like planets around other stars.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. JWST will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. JWST's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.

Figure 3. Artistic Impression of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). (Image source NASA)

JWST will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won't fit onto the rocket fully open, so both will fold up and open only once JWST is in outer space. JWST will reside in an orbit about 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from the Earth.

Source: AZoOptics

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