Spaceflight Now Home

Spaceflight Now +

Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

X-43A launched
NASA's experimental X-43A hypersonic research aircraft is successfully launched by a Pegasus rocket off the coast of California on March 27. (2min 40sec file)
 Play video
 More clips

Latest Mars rover news
The latest pictures and science results from the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity are presented at this briefing on Friday. (50min 02sec file)
 Play video
 More clips

Mars water discovery
Scientists present evidence from the Mars rover Opportunity during this Tuesday news conference that shows the landing site was once the bottom of a salty sea. (76min 48sec file)
 Play video
 MP3 audio download

Armstrong speech
Neil Armstrong accepts the Rotary National Space Trophy for career contributions in aerospace. He says President Bush's plan to return to the Moon is economically feasible and has "substantial merit and promise." (12min 10sec)
 Play video

Become a subscriber
More video


Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed direct to your desktop.

Enter your e-mail address:

Privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose.

Ultraviolet astronomy in danger, scientists say
Posted: March 30, 2004

World astronomers are becoming very concerned about their ability to carry out observations in ultraviolet light following recent announcements about the future of the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble is most famous for the clear images it gives of distant objects from its vantage point above the Earth's atmosphere. It is less well known that its instruments are also sensitive to radiation outside the visible range that never penetrates to the Earth's surface. Observations of these wavelengths, including the ultraviolet, can only be carried out from space.

While a successor for the visible and infrared capability of Hubble is already being designed - the James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2011 - no similar replacement is on the drawing board to replace Hubble's ultraviolet capability. At present, approximately one third of the time allocated on the Hubble Space Telescope is devoted to ultraviolet observations.

Significant discoveries made in the past with ultraviolet observations include hidden white dwarf stars orbiting normal stars and revelations about their composition, halos of hot gas surrounding the Milky Way and other galaxies, and the realization that most stars are enveloped with hot gas, like the Sun's corona.

Professor Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester says, "When Hubble finally fails, access to one of the most important parts of the spectrum will end for the foreseeable future." And he will voice his concerns in a talk at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting at the Open University on Tuesday 30 March.

But Professor Barstow will go on to tell the meeting how a group of astronomers are hoping to fill the gap with an innovative mission called the World Space Observatory. While being significantly more sensitive than Hubble, it could be built and launched within 5 years. With participation from more than 20 different countries the World Space Observatory will be the first truly global space mission and will have contributions from developing nations taking their first steps in space research. However, political and financial support is needed from the various governmental space agencies to make the project a reality.

Prof Barstow said: "The World Space Observatory is a completely new approach to carrying out space science, spreading the overall costs across a much larger number of countries than in the past. At the moment, it is the only potential replacement for Hubble in the ultraviolet and it is essential that the world-wide community supports the project."