After a Month of Downtime, Hubble Space Telescope Is Back With a Bang

Hubble is back! And it’s finally snapping photos of the cosmos once again.
Ameya Paleja

Rising back from its near-death experience, the Hubble Space Telescope is back to its old days of capturing scientific observations of the cosmos and sending us images to decipher them further. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed in a press release that Hubble has recovered from the computer anomaly and is back in business, in its 32nd year in space. 

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope is a joint effort of the American and European Space Agency and has made over 1.5 million observations that have helped us better understand our universe.

From recognizing worlds beyond our Sun and exploring the birth of stars to watching the evolution of galaxies and shedding some light on the dark matter, Hubble has accomplished many unforgettable achievements.

But on June 13, 2021, the payload computer that controls the science instruments on the telescope suddenly stopped and the main computer put all instruments into safe mode, bringing all observations to a grinding halt. The team at NASA got to work immediately to fix the problem but given that the system was over three decades old, they needed help. 

Staff who had long retired or moved on to other projects returned to offer their expertise on the payload computer, as well as going through paperwork dating back nearly 40 years to identify potential hazards of the measures the team planned to take to bring the telescope back online.

That the Space Telescope was launched with backups for all its essential devices was helpful in resolving the issue. The scientists switched on the backup hardware components progressively, first in a simulator on the ground and then commanding the spaceship in a 15-hour procedure. Finally, at 2,330 hours on July 15, the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling backup unit were also switched, and science instruments were returned back online.

Starting July 17, Hubble began making scientific observations and first looked at colliding galaxies, global star clusters, and auroras on the planet Jupiter. NASA recently released images of the colliding galaxies, as can be seen above.

The black-and-white images show different galactic views, with on the left showing an object called ARP-MADORE2115-273 and on the right ARP-MADORE0002-503. The first one, located about 297 million light-years from Earth, is actually two different galaxies caught in an intergalactic dance. The second one is a large spiral galaxy located about 490 million light-years from Earth and it is three times more expansive than Milky Way Galaxy.

These latest photographs are only two in a series of test photos taken by NASA and the European Space Agency as they seek to restart the space telescope. 

“We have so much to learn from this next chapter of Hubble's life," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. "I couldn’t be more excited about what the Hubble team has achieved over the past few weeks. They’ve met the challenges of this process head-on, ensuring that Hubble's days of exploration are far from over."