With luck, the Hubble Space Telescope will yield more startling images of the cosmos for years. But because NASA is no longer servicing the telescope, it is expected to give up the ghost sometime after 2020. That does not mean that the Hubble discoveries will stop, however. NASA maintains an archive of data gathered over Hubble's lifetime—the telescope went live in 1991—and makes it available to the public for free. The archive has already yielded discoveries such as nebulae and distant galaxies. “The legacy is a treasure trove of data that can be mined in the future,” says Arfon Smith, who leads a new data-science initiative at Hubble's home, the Space Telescope Science Institute. “The data are incredibly valuable and still ridiculously useful.” The archive is a testament to the enduring value of big, basic science research—the data can pay off in ways astronomers cannot yet imagine.
This article was originally published with the title "Long Live Hubble" in Scientific American 316, 3, 80 (March 2017)
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
For a look back at Hubble's first 25 years, go to ScientificAmerican.com/mar2017/graphic-science