O space telescope Hubble, who completed 30 years of operation last April, it can be considered one of the most important scientific instruments in human history. Despite a "fiasco" shortly after its release, when NASA engineers discovered it was "short-sighted", repairs and upgrades over the years had restored and expanded its capabilities.
This made it possible to confirm hypotheses about the existence of black holes in the heart of galaxies, the discovery of exoplanets and brought her clues about the origin and functioning of the universe.
Last year Kevin Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the institute responsible for controlling and operating the telescope, had high hopes for the future. He stated that "the best is yet to come", citing as an example a project called Ulysses, which intends to use ultraviolet light-sensitive equipment installed at Hubble to capture details of star formation.
But perhaps the plans will have to be rethought. two failures recent hardware developments, one of which is still unresolved, cast doubt on Hubble's longevity. Some say "he's dying," while NASA insists it hasn't given up on finding a way to put it back into operation.
The most recent problem was caused by a flaw in the "payload computer", the computer that controls the operation of all the "payload" (ie scientific instruments) on board. The exact cause has not yet been determined, but hypotheses include a memory module failure, or a failure in a communication system between the payload computer and the main computer.
One option is to replace the affected computer with a backup computer, which was installed during the last maintenance mission, carried out by the space shuttle Atlantis in 2009. A new maintenance mission for sending extra parts is not possible, as with the retirement of space shuttles, NASA does not have a spacecraft capable of carrying it out. That is, engineers are forced to work with what they already have in orbit.
If the backup computer cannot be used, a device that was also installed in 2009 could direct Hubble's re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, causing it to "burn" over a region that does not present. risk for the population.
Even if Hubble is forced to prematurely end its mission, the information it helped unravel will stay with us forever. The telescope has made more than a million observations and has provided data that astronomers have used to write more than 16 scientific publications on a wide range of topics – from planet formation to gigantic black holes.
These articles have been referenced in other publications more than 800 thousand times, and this total increases, on average, more than 150 per day. Every current astronomy book includes contributions from the telescope and today's university students do not know a time in their lives when astronomers were not actively making discoveries with their data.
We will also have the most beautiful images of the most distant regions and the strangest phenomena of the cosmos. Below are eight iconic images.