Insight Into: Hubble’s Orbit

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Why does the Hubble Space Telescope see better in space than any ground-based telescope?

Hubble Anniversary (20th & 25th)
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach.
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
·       Ground-based image of Carina Nebula © R. Gendler, J.-E. Ovaldsen, C. Feron, and C. Thone
·       Twinkling star movie courtesy of Applied Optics Group (Imperial College), William Herschel Telescope
·       Gran Telescopio Canarias photo courtesy of Victor R. Ruiz
·       M51 image from Gran Telescopio Canarias courtesy of IAC/GTC
·       Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
Written by Vanessa Thomas and John Stoke
Designed by Marc Lussier and John Godfrey 
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music


 The Earth comes towards us rapidly. The Hubble Space Telescope sits in orbit. 

Text, Soaring overhead, the HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE gazes out at the universe from just above Earth's atmosphere. 

The United States from above. 

Text, About 350 miles up, Hubble is actually closer to the ground than Boston is to Washington, D.C. 

A line appears between two red dots labeled BOSTON and D.C. 

Hubble telescope in orbit 

Text, 350 miles above Earth 

It's not far, but this small distance makes a world of difference. 

The edge of the Earth up close. A glowing red dot in the distance. 

Text, That's because light, as it passes through Earth's atmosphere, gets bent and bounced around. 

A straight ray of light from the red dot hits the air and begins to zig zag. 

Text, This causes stars to twinkle. A twinkling star looks blurry. 

A magnification of the zig zag light ray shows a white twinkle bouncing around. 

A blurry orange and pink nebula. 

Text, GROUND-BASED IMAGE. This also causes stars and other celestial objects to look somewhat blurry when examined by telescopes on the ground. 

But above the atmosphere, everything is still. Stars, galaxies, planets, and nebulas are crisp and clear. HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE IMAGE. 

The nebula image from the Hubble Telescope is crisp. It has green, pink, orange, and white gases. 

Text, Perched at the edge of space, 

The Hubble Telescope sits in orbit. 

Text, Hubble sees the universe better than it could from anywhere on Earth. 

The Earth shrinks away.