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Remembering 25 years of the Hubble Space Telescope

by Brea Aamoth on March 14th, 2015


Next Maunakea Skies Talk March 20, 2015

Speaker: Dr. Richard Griffiths, UH Hilo Department of Physics and Astronomy

Topic: 25 Years of Science with the Hubble Space Telescope

Next month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, which has captured the public imagination and brought astronomy into the forefront, influencing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

In the 1960s and 1970s NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) began design studies of a large telescope in space, which was carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle on April 24, 1990.

The first images from the Hubble were blurred by an aberration in the primary mirror, but new NASA instruments were launched in late 1993 to correct the problem and the Hubble has since met or exceeded all expectations. Over the years, there have been a total of five shuttle missions which have serviced the Hubble, and these have been used to upgrade the systems and the instruments on board, improving the capabilities of the telescope even further.

Dr. Griffiths’s talk will highlight some of the major achievements that have been made by astronomers using the Hubble, from objects in the local universe to the most distant infant galaxies yet observed. The Hubble has been used to perform seminal observations of all classes of astronomical objects, from studies in our own solar system to exploratory observations of extrasolar planets to the study of stellar populations in nearby galaxies and supernovae in the distant universe.

In the “deep surveys” performed using Hubble, the telescope is pointed at ‘blank’ areas of sky for about a month, revealing tens of thousands of galaxies. From these deep surveys, we have learned about the formation and evolution of galaxies in the universe, from infant objects to galaxies like the Milky Way.

Dr. Richard Griffiths is a physics graduate of Imperial College of Science and Technology (University ofWendover_Aug05 002_reg London) and the University of Leicester (Ph.D. 1972). He has worked in the USA since 1976, initially in the X-ray astrophysics group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he worked on X-ray satellite data and developed the first charge-coupled devices for X-ray imaging and spectroscopy.

His background is in the development of detectors and instrumentation for rocket and satellite experiments in astronomy, especially visible-light and x-ray imagers. In 1983 he took a position at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, working on the Wide Field and Planetary Cameras on the Hubble, and later moved to a faculty position at Johns Hopkins University. He took up a tenured physics professorship at Carnegie Mellon University in 1996 and became Emeritus Professor there on retirement from CMU in 2013. Griffiths currently works at the University of Hawai’i, Hilo where he is an Affiliate Full Professor in the Physics and Astronomy department. He teaches astrophysics and continues his research work using X-ray telescopes in space and the Hubble Space Telescope, together with the Keck and other ground-based optical observatories.

From 2008 to 2013, Griffiths worked as a visiting scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC, on leave of absence from Carnegie Mellon University. At NASA, Griffiths was Program Scientist for a number of strategic space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope and future missions aimed to study the properties of dark energy.

Griffiths has over 300 publications in refereed scientific journals and has given many invited talks at international meetings. He served on the Board of Directors of the Southern African Large Telescope from 1997 to 2010.

Maunakea Skies program will be hosted by Cam Wipper, ‘Imiloa planetarium staff. He will provide observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, pointing out prominent constellations and stars one can see during this time of year.

The monthly Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. Cost is $8 for Individual, Dual, Kupuna and Family Members; $6 for Patron Members; Free for Silver, Gold, and Corporate Members. Non-member rate is $10. Pre-purchase tickets at the ‘Imiloa front desk or by phone at 969-9703.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, go to, or call (808) 969-9703.

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