Hubble's impact

Contributed by
Aug 21, 2008

Over at Cosmic Variance, my fellow astronomy blogger Julianne Dalcanton is looking for opinions. She's writing an article about the scientific impact of Hubble, and she's looking to see what others come up with. Webrainstorming, if you will (did I coin a new word there? I think maybe I did).

This is scientific, not cultural impact. So no things about the public being more aware of astronomy and whatnot. I can think of two things immediately:

1) We've watched the evolution of the supernova 1987A from just three years after it detonated to the present. We've seen the changes in the supernova debris at it has expanded, and we're seeing the impact -- literally -- of it on the surrounding ring of material. It's that ring that I studied to get my degree, which is why I thought of this particular example right away. We also saw that the supernova is surrounded by three rings, which made it unique... until more objects like it were found using Hubble and Spitzer.

2) The other impact isn't scientific but on science itself. Hubble cost a fortune: $6 billion and counting. There are things Hubble can do that ground-based telescopes simply cannot, so comparisons are difficult. But even an expensive telescope on the surface costs more than an order of magnitude less. Is it worth it? Many scientists spent their careers working on Hubble, having their scientific progress ground (haha) to a halt, and some even became pariahs because of it. Had it been managed differently, had it been downsized, had it been not such a political tool, how would that have affected the science itself? We can only speculate -- which I generally frown upon -- but in this case a little retrospection might be good. We'll be faced with similar decisions in the future, and of course we already are: going back to the Moon, going to Mars, building the Space Station, and more.

What do you think? First, go see what Julianne wrote and what her commenters said, then add your own, either here or there. I'm sure she'll read what you write here!

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