Hubble works with the wider astronomical community to explore the universe
The Hubble Space Telescope has a tradition of collaborating with other missions in space and on Earth to answer some of the most pressing astronomical questions of our time. Hubble’s unique capabilities provide a critical piece to the puzzle of understanding the universe. Teaming with other telescopes often produces science that is far more than the sum of its parts.
Different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum offer distinct windows into the workings of the universe. In addition to seeing visible and infrared light, Hubble has an exclusive window into the ultraviolet thanks to its keen eyesight, special instruments, and position high above the Earth’s atmosphere. Other telescopes in space — such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory, observing x-rays, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, known for observing in infrared — offer other special capabilities. Often, Hubble can make new discoveries based on intriguing results from ground-based or space-based observatories where the spatial detail and wavelength coverage only Hubble can supply is needed, and open the gates to brand new areas of research. To facilitate this cooperative research, astronomers can ask for time on Hubble through partnering observatories and vice versa.
The detections of gravitational waves and neutrinos have given us new ways of observing the universe, beyond detecting light with telescopes. In this new age of astronomy, Hubble’s sensitive, high-resolution observations will be paired with these other “information messengers” to provide a fuller picture of our universe. For example, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) studies the universe through gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time itself. As LIGO finds more and more neutron star collisions or identifies exploding massive stars, only Hubble’s sensitive ultraviolet observations taken within days of discovery can analyze the chemical make-up of a gravitational wave source through ultraviolet spectroscopy.
Although Hubble is most often associated with its deep-sky observations, the telescope has also kept a watchful eye on events within our own solar system. Some of the phenomena Hubble has witnessed on our neighboring planets include the weather — watching storms arise and dissipate across the faces of other nearby worlds. Hubble also helps drive the science of understanding the history of the solar system through the observation of planets, moons, and small objects. This includes helping missions such as New Horizons plan trips to places like Ultima Thule, and providing results that inspire new science missions, such as identifying plumes of water on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Hubble is also an important part of astronomy’s future, working with the next generation of space telescopes. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) will be the world’s premier infrared space observatory, built in partnership with the European and Canadian Space Agencies. It will cover longer wavelengths of light than Hubble and will have greatly improved sensitivity over previous infrared missions. Webb will combine forces with Hubble’s unique capabilities in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light to give us a new, never-before-seen, more comprehensive view of the universe.