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Misconceptions about Hubble Misconceptions about Hubble

This feature includes common misconceptions about the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology. The misconceptions are presented as the “myth” and the explanations of the true concepts are the “reality.”

Myths vs. Realities

MYTH: The Hubble Space Telescope is a manned satellite, with astronauts living and conducting research on it as it orbits Earth.

REALITY: The telescope is unmanned and controlled from Earth. Astronomers request observation time on the telescope and conduct their research on Earth.

MYTH: The Hubble Space Telescope can only observe visible space objects.

REALITY: The Hubble telescope can collect more light so that astronomers can see objects more clearly. But the telescope also can detect light that is invisible to the human eye, such as infrared and ultraviolet light.

MYTH: The Hubble Space Telescope can observe celestial bodies better than other observatories because it is closer to them, or because it travels to the celestial bodies.

REALITY: The Hubble Space Telescope orbits Earth. It produces clearer images than ground-based telescopes because it is above Earth's atmosphere. Earth's atmosphere distorts our view of objects in space.

MYTH: The Hubble Space Telescope takes pictures of celestial objects, like taking snapshots with the family camera.

REALITY: The Hubble Space Telescope does not use film to take images. The telescope instead takes digital images, which are transmitted to Earth. Scientists, however, do not think of Hubble as a giant digital camera in space, but rather as a scientific instrument that observes objects for analysis. These observations can be converted into pictures, but pictures are not Hubble's primary purpose.

MYTH: The Hubble Space Telescope can take pictures of anything.

REALITY: The telescope cannot take pictures of everything in space. For example, pointing it near the Sun or other very bright objects, such as Earth, could damage the instruments. On one occasion, the telescope snapped pictures of the Moon, but this took much effort since the Moon is very bright and appears to move through the sky more rapidly than other, more distant, objects. The Hubble Space Telescope has also never taken pictures of Mercury because it is too close to the Sun.

MYTH: NASA has “warp drive” technology.

REALITY: Warp drive is an imaginary device used in science fiction. Objects cannot travel faster than the speed of light (300,000 kilometers per second, or 186,000 miles per second).

MYTH: NASA spacecraft can travel at or near the speed of light.

REALITY: Spacecraft travel much slower. For example, the Cassini spacecraft was successfully launched on October 15, 1997, and reached Saturn in 2004. The Apollo missions took slightly more than three days to travel from Earth to the Moon. At the speed of light, it would take about 1 second to reach the Moon and about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach Saturn.