San Juan Stargazers will consider ‘Hubble’s Legacy and Beyond’

By Joan Mieritz
Special to The PREVIEW
The San Juan Stargazers’ regular monthly meeting will be Thursday, Jan. 23, in the Visitor Center Conference Room located at 105 Hot Springs Blvd. beside the San Juan River. The meeting is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. sharp. Hot drinks will be served starting at 6:30 p.m. for social time as we gather.
Our first brief topic will be the wonderful StarLab, which is a portable planetarium that Anita Hinger, science teacher at Pagosa Springs Middle School, has been gathering money. It will benefit all 1,636 students of our school district. It is an outstanding multifunctional $40,000 piece of science equipment that includes programs, in addition to astronomy, for weather, plate tectonics, geology and other areas. The Stargazers have made one $1,000 donation, but many members are intent on raising more money since it is such a worthy project. There will be a report from our newly formed StarLab Fundraising Committee.
Our regular program is from the series that we have been studying for two years called “Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe.” This will be the last lesson from the series. It includes a written part and a video lecture by Professor David Meyer of Northwestern University. The lesson title is “Hubble’s Legacy and Beyond.”
One of Hubble’s greatest discoveries was made by comparing 2004 and 2006 data. By doing so, Hubble astronomers identified the first exoplanet, which is a planet outside our solar system. The next big step is to image extrasolar planets, but that will have to wait until the successor to the Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, is successfully launched. The Webb has extended several launch dates because everything must be perfect.
The Hubble is in an orbit around the sun and was launched unknowingly with a huge error in its mirror. Astronauts had to visit the Hubble to correct that error and many other times to make repairs and additions over the years. The Webb will not be able to have such visits from Earth because its location is more than 1 million miles away, far outside the Earth’s orbit. There is one chance for the Webb and there can be absolutely no errors. Human beings are not noted for their ability to achieve such a level of perfection.
The most difficult part is that the Webb will be a large telescope and must be launched with every part folded together to be small enough to escape Earth’s gravity. Once it arrives at its distant location, each part needs to unfold and remotely attach. It essentially will be remotely built from 1 million miles away. Every aspect of the James Webb telescope is beyond amazing. It will be the greatest technological accomplishment of mankind. We are fortunate to have a part-time Pagosa resident working on the Webb. He has reported to the Stargazers several times over the past years when he can take vacation time. He will hopefully give us an update this summer.
Since NASA has retired the shuttle program, nothing more can be done to keep the Hubble working. It will continue to explore the cosmos for an unknown amount of time until its orbit decays and it is burned up by the atmosphere. Our Thursday night lesson will provide details of what I have described including photos and images and it is well worth your time to attend.
We have been selling our fabulous Astronomy Magazine Deep Space Mysteries 2020 Calendar. By accident, two calendars are still available for purchase. There are exceptional photos with a detailed explanation to help you learn the basics of astronomy. There are notations of significant sky events and phases of the moon. You can pick up a copy at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. Both Hillary and Rick can help you. The cost is $13. They are perfect to mail and they give the message every day throughout the year that you cared enough to send such an exceptional gift. Please stop by soon.
New people are always warmly welcomed at our meetings. I hope you can join us.
The San Juan Stargazers are part of the Astronomical League, which includes clubs from all over the U.S. We have a new website, www.sanjuanstargazers.org, as well as an email address, sjstargazers@gmail.com, and a club phone number, 335-8286. Our club address is P.O. Box 2217, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.

This story was posted on January 18, 2020.