To Top

How Does the Hubble Telescope Work and Where Is It?

 Have you ever gazed at the night sky and marveled at the twinkling stars and wispy clouds of gas and dust? What if you could see these celestial objects in much greater detail, unhindered by Earth’s atmosphere? Enter the Hubble Space Telescope, a marvel of modern engineering that has revolutionized our understanding of the universe. Want to know more? Learn how does the Hubble telescope work.

The Birth of the Hubble Telescope

how does the hubble telescope work

Instagram | astroanajulia | The Hubble Telescope’s origin story: Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr.’s 1946 vision for clearer cosmic images.

The story of the Hubble Telescope begins with Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr., an astrophysicist who, in 1946, envisioned a telescope orbiting Earth to capture clearer images of the cosmos. Back then, space travel was still in its infancy, but Dr. Spitzer’s vision persisted. Over the next few decades, with the maturing of the U.S. space program, Spitzer lobbied NASA and Congress to make his dream a reality.

In 1975, the European Space Agency (ESA) joined forces with NASA to develop the telescope. Finally, in 1977, Congress approved funding for the project, and the telescope was named after Edwin Hubble, the astronomer whose observations of distant galaxies provided evidence for an expanding universe.

A Liftoff for Discovery

After years of construction and a delay due to the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Hubble Space Telescope finally launched in 1990. Carried aboard the space shuttle Discovery, it embarked on its journey to a unique vantage point above Earth’s atmosphere.

Since its deployment, the Hubble Telescope has transformed our understanding of the cosmos. Scientists have used its data to write countless research papers, piecing together the puzzle of the universe’s origin, age, and evolution. From studying colossal black holes to witnessing the fiery deaths of stars, Hubble has provided unparalleled insights.

How Does the Hubble Telescope Work?

But how does the Hubble telescope work and capture such breathtaking images? Here’s a breakdown of its key functionalities:

Capturing Light

Imagine a giant light collector – that’s what the Hubble Telescope is. It uses a specific type of mirror design called a Cassegrain reflector. Light enters the telescope through the open end and bounces off a large, curved primary mirror.

This reflected light then travels to a smaller, secondary mirror positioned near the top of the telescope tube. Finally, the light bounces off the secondary mirror and travels through a hole in the center of the primary mirror, reaching a focal point behind it.

Unveiling the Spectrum

At this focal point, specialized instruments take over. These instruments act like the “eyes” of the telescope, each designed to capture different wavelengths of light, similar to how our eyes perceive different colors. Unlike film cameras, Hubble uses electronic detectors called CCDs to capture this light information. The data is then converted into digital signals, stored onboard, and relayed to Earth for processing.

Here’s a closer look at some of Hubble’s key instruments:

  • Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) – This versatile instrument captures both ultraviolet and infrared light, providing a broader view of the cosmos.
  • Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) – This instrument delves into the infrared realm, allowing us to see objects obscured by dust and gas in visible light.
  • Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) – By separating light into its component colors, STIS helps astronomers identify the chemical makeup of celestial objects.
  • Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) – Installed during a servicing mission, the ACS observes visible light and has aided in mapping dark matter, spotting distant objects, and studying galaxy clusters.
  • Fine Guidance Sensors (FGSs) – These sensors play a crucial role in keeping the telescope pointed at its targets.

Powering the Mission

how does the hubble telescope work

Instagram | kevyn.rdz | Hubble telescope’s solar panels transform sunlight into power, while relay satellites ensure uninterrupted communication.

The Hubble Telescope isn’t a telescope, it’s a spacecraft. It requires power, communication with Earth, and the ability to adjust its orientation. Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, and a network of relay satellites ensures seamless communication. Onboard computers manage these functions and steer the telescope toward its designated targets.

Limitations and the Enduring Legacy

Despite its remarkable capabilities, the Hubble Telescope has limitations. Its orbit restricts observations of objects close to the Sun, and it can’t observe the Sun itself due to the intense heat and light. Additionally, the telescope encounters high radiation zones that hinder data collection.

But, Hubble’s contributions to astronomy are undeniable. It has outlived its initial 15-year mission lifespan, thanks to several servicing missions that have repaired and upgraded its instruments. As long as Hubble remains operational and provides valuable data, it will continue to be a cornerstone of astronomical research.

A Successor Emerges

how does the hubble telescope work

seekersofthecosmos | Instagram | James Webb Space Telescope boasts a larger mirror and advanced infrared tech for deeper cosmic exploration.


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched in 2021, represents the next generation of space exploration beyond Hubble. With a larger mirror and advanced infrared technology, JWST reaches the cosmos from a Lagrange point, where it enjoys greater stability and avoids Earth’s interference.

JWST’s mission includes studying the universe’s earliest light to uncover the origins of stars and galaxies, and exploring exoplanet atmospheres for signs of habitability. Together with Hubble, JWST promises to revolutionize our understanding of the universe with complementary insights across vast distances and epochs.

Hubble telescope’s sharp view has transformed our understanding of space. It captured light from distant objects, revealing the universe’s history and igniting scientific progress and public wonder. Even with newer telescopes, Hubble’s legacy will inspire future generations.

More in Tech

You must be logged in to post a comment Login