While the March for Science in Washington, D.C., is making some waves with its rallying cry to “Make Science Great Again,” NASA had something to work on a little closer to home Thursday.
It appears the Hubble Space Telescope (also known as the famous space-dove dish), which is the focal point of NASA’s stellar astrophysics program, has been struggling to keep itself operational again.
NASA announced on Twitter on Thursday that the telescope had entered safe mode again. That means it was flying normally before something caused it to go dark in a regular shutdown mode.
Hubble was in a normal phase of operation before entering safe mode. Mission control was able to restart the telescope shortly thereafter, NASA said in its tweet.
The reason NASA gave for the safe mode was not included in its tweet. It sent the following message to its followers: “We’re investigating the cause of the safe mode.”
This isn’t the first time Hubble’s safe mode has raised eyebrows. In 2017, NASA said it entered safe mode twice in three days, and they issued an official “Statement of Concern.” The agency acknowledged at the time that the turnstile wasn’t working properly, and Hubble appeared to be unable to orient itself properly on the laser. It was then discovered the laser was sending radiation too high, which inhibited its orientation.
The reason for the mishap was not included in the 2017 statement, though it did go on to say the mission would reroute laser paths, and Hubble would rest as a result. “No mission problems or impacts to Earth will be directly caused by this event,” the 2017 statement said.
According to NASA, the space telescope remains in good working order since it suffered little damage during both 2015 and 2017’s trouble. However, it did draw and deploy a “garbled” antenna cover, which caused a risk of permanent damage.
NASA launched Hubble to the heavens in 1990. The telescope “is billed as the most powerful instrument in history, able to observe and record every astronomical event, comet, and exploding star for thousands of light years in the distance,” NASA’s website reads.
This may have made astronomers’ jobs a little easier, as they’ve discovered many surprises on the space telescope.
Among the so-called mysteries of Hubble were a glaring missing lens, which NASA had theorized was purposely deformed by a collision between two huge stars, and the formation of the Andromeda galaxy by shedding vast amounts of dust to create the messy galactic carcass we see today.
NASA first spotted the missing lens, also known as the “rapture telescope,” in 1995; in the era of X-rays, astronomers saw a star smack into another star, destroying it. According to science lore, the initial collision then violently ejected the parts of the wreckage that collided with one another, starting the rotation of the universe.
Hubble also has its share of celebrity fans: Astronomers believe that Hubble’s wide-field lens offered them a chance to scrutinize one of the biggest mysteries in science and astronomy: the nature of dark matter, another pillar of the universe.
One of those celebrities was Neil deGrasse Tyson, who viewed the Hubble camera anomaly in a famous 2013 video in which he said it should be called the “gas chamber camera.”
The Huffington Post reported in February that the star produced by the Hubble’s wide-field lens is an odd, but potentially discernible glowing object.
Unlike most stars, which have a loblolly cloud of dust around them and remain bright in the rest of the galaxy, this star has “browned” away, and is further away from the rest of the galaxy.
Writing on his blog, Tyson observed, “In no time this gas body was completely transformed from a radio source into a fully-illuminated, brown-light-colored ‘rogue’ pulsating star, with its own rotating engine and energetic tail.”
Tyson also said he’d be traveling to Morocco and Iran to observe “the lost galaxy,” not to be mistaken for Star Wars villain “The Star”, in the coming weeks.