As part of Science Channel Weekend,Discovery Channel will premiere "Telescope" on Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT
, a "dynamic journey behind the scenes of the next step in the evolution of telescopes: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope," directed by Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn. This next-generation telescope will be 100 times more powerful than the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, but Hubble, which has been observing the cosmos for quarter of a century, continues to dazzle us with stunning views of the universe. However, some of its most beautiful observations are right here in Hubble's backyard.Hubble's Recent Discoveries and Stunning Photos
As we get excited for the next generation in space telescopes and what awesome views of the distant cosmos they will bring, let's return home, to our solar system. Here's a small selection of our favorite planets, asteroids, comets and moons that Hubble has studied in recent years.
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (Cornell University), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute, Boulder)
The Red Planet is a Hubble favorite and, depending on where it is in its orbit, the space telescopewill check in periodically
. Our solar system neighbor can be seen very clearly by Hubble, which can also see atmospheric changes such as global dust storms.
NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (University of Maryland, College Park), and L. McFadden (NASA GSFC)
Deep inside the asteroid belt that occupies the space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter lurks a massive asteroid and long before NASA's Dawn mission slid into orbit around Vesta,Hubble was on hand to zoom in on the small world
NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles)
Although rare, Hubble has been able to image its fair star of asteroids that are literally falling apart.In this series of observations
(starting in late 2013), an asteroid breaks up, not due to an impact, but through interactions with sunlight that caused the rocky obect to "spin up" and rip itself to shreds.MORE: Hubble Witnesses Mysterious Breakup of Asteroid
NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)
Hubble has evened challenged the distinction of what's a comet and what's an asteroid. Shown here is an objectthat has the attributes of both
-- it is known as an "active asteroid," which is generating its own comet-like tail. As Spock would say: "
."MORE: Dying Space Rock: Asteroid-Comet Hybrid Discovered
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble is also a very seasoned comet hunter and has proven itself proficient at tracking some of the biggest cometary events of our time. One such recent event was the stunning inner solar system encounter with Comet ISON that received international attention for being a potentially bright comet that could outshine the moon. Sadly, the icy vagabond never lived up to its potential and ultimately got fried by the sun, but at least Hubble captured its portrait before it was vaporized.
NASA, ESA, and H. Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.), and the Jupiter Impact Team
You may remember thedramatic break-up of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994
that ended up as the mother of all planetary impacts in the atmosphere of Jupiter, but since then Hubble has had a ringside seat of a few more Jovian punches. Following up on amateur astronomers' observations of a weird bruise on Jupiter,Hubble took a closer look in 2009
to see an impact feature that looked strikingly similar to the aftermath of Shoemaker-Levy 9. These observations by Hubble have helped scientists begin to understand just how common energetic planetary impacts are in our modern solar system.
NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M. Wong (UC Berkeley), and G. Orton (JPL-Caltech)
During an extended campaign last year,Hubble took several high-resolution observations
of the solar system's biggest planet, Jupiter. In the stunning upper atmosphere maps of the gas giant, previously unnoticed waves were seen. Also, astronomers took note of the size of Jupiter's shrinking "Great Red Dot."MORE: Hubble's Jupiter Maps Reveal Weird Structures
NASA, ESA, and Jonathan Nichols (University of Leicester)
In 2009, ringed gas giant Saturn was aligned with Earth and Hubble took the opportunity to not only observe the edge-on rings, but to also observe aurorae rumbling in the northern and southern magnetic poles. This was an amazing scientific boon to learn about solar wind activity at both poles simultaneously,but it also made for some beautiful imagery
.MORE: Saturn's Aurora Could Hold Key to Radio Pulse Mystery
NASA, ESA, and L. Lamy (Observatory of Paris, CNRS, CNES)
If a planet has a magnetic field and it is hit by a dose of space weather, there's the potential of some aurora. This is true for Earth and, as proven by Hubble, this is true of other planets in the solar system too. Though the aurorae of Saturn and Jupiter often take center stage,these 2011 observations show
elegant auroral activity in the upper atmosphere of Uranus, the solar system's strangely tilted ice giant planet.MORE: Hunting Uranus, the Solar System's Azure Ice Giant
NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)
From its privileged orbital perch, Hubble can even discover tiny moons orbiting the outer solar system planets.Shown here
is the discovery observation of Neptune's moon S/2004 N 1 that was found by astronomers poring over archival Hubble imagery of the ice giant planet.MORE: Diamond Oceans Possible on Uranus, Neptune
NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute)
Although mottled and blurry, before NASA's New Horizons mission flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, this was the best view we had of Pluto, as seen through Hubble's lens. Still, the space telescope was able to decipherdifferent toned landscapes
and even atmospheric dynamics from afar.MORE: Fuzzy to Clear: Space Robots Snap Solar System Into Focus
NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)
During its decade-long coast to the outer solar system, NASA's New Horizons mission was assisted by Hubble in many ways. Principally, Hubble was used to seek out previously undiscovered moons orbiting the dwarf planet. Not only is it cool to discover new things in the outer solar system, this observation campaign would eventually help New Horizons scientists work out if the Pluto system was a dangerous place filled with potential spacecraft-smashing debris. In the process of this campaign, Hubble discovered "P4" and "P5" that were eventually called (after an entertaining public vote and debate) Kerberos and Styx.MORE: Pluto's Moons Offer Secrets and Threaten Danger
NASA, ESA, SwRI, JHU/APL, and the New Horizons KBO Search Team
When NASA's New Horizons mission flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, it wasn't destined to be a one-trick pony; mission scientists had plans for it to visit another outer solar system object, deep within the Kuiper Belt, sometime in 2019. Hubble had a huge role to play in this extended mission decision, helping astronomers survey the depths of the Kuiper Belt to eventually find the perfect candidate: a mysterious body called 2014 MU69 (PT1).This observation
shows 2 candidate Kupier Belt objects that were considered in 2014 before the probe's Pluto encounter.MORE: Pluto Probe Spies Object Lurking in the Kuiper Belt