Hubble Space Telescope is in trouble after gyroscope failure

Image    The Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the most famous images Hubble captured

Image The Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the most famous images Hubble captured

The Hubble Space Telescope has shut down and gone into protective "safe mode" after one of the gyroscopes which keep it in place failed on Sunday, team members said.

For now, Hubble's still the star of the show, so let's hope it can pull through. Scientists are acutely aware of that today after placing the orbiting observatory into safe mode following the failure of another gyroscope.

The gyroscopes allow the telescope, which has been in low Earth orbit since 1990, to sense rotation and stabilise itself.

The Hubble telescope has three pairs of two gyroscopes, with each pair consisting of a primary and back-up gyroscope. The BBC reports that it has three older and three newer ones.

'First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic'.

'It's true. Very stressful weekend, ' Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said on Twitter.

Only two of those enhanced gyros are now running.

The original Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures.

It's impossible to overstate the amount of data Hubble has collected during its 28-year stint in space, and its overall contributions to science. Scientists had already planned to reduce Hubble to using only a single gyroscope at a time once it was down to three, that being meant to prolong the space telescope's lifespan for as long as possible. Gizmodo reached out to Osten and NASA Goddard for comment but had not heard back at time of writing. But it isn't an unexpected issue.

He reminded us that the telescope can operate for many more years in reduced gyro mode.

Hubble's primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long - the length of a large school bus.

The ageing Hubble still has work to do.

Astronomers are anxiously awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for 2021, but until then Hubble remains the most powerful space telescope in the sky - and the best tool for peering deep into space.

But we still have to stare down the barrel of an uncomfortable truth: Hubble is wearing out, and that 2009 service mission was the last.

There's no need to worry about Hubble's existence just yet.

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