In 1990 NASA and the European Space Agency launched a telescope designed to peer deep into the universe. Above Earth’s atmosphere, the satellite would see without distortions from air, light, and pollution. Scientists said it would last, at best, for a decade.
Thirty years later, Hubble continues to fascinate. Its famous images have helped astronomers answer some of space’s biggest questions, from How old is the universe? (13.8 billion years old) to Do black holes actually exist? (yes, with frightening ferocity). In 1995 astronomer Bob Williams had a zany idea: What if NASA pointed Hubble at a seeming dark spot in the sky? That yielded the magical discovery that even where the human eye sees nothing, thousands of galaxies exist.
“One of Hubble’s lasting achievements will be how it showed the public the wonders of the universe,” says Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which oversees Hubble’s science program.
Next year NASA plans to launch the more sensitive James Webb Space Telescope—but Hubble’s not done yet. Together, the two will craft an even more complex portrait of the universe and look for answers to a question that never gets old: What else is out there?