The Hubble Space Telescope is the first astronomical observatory placed into orbit around Earth with the ability to record images in wavelengths of light spanning ultraviolet to near infrared. Launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, Hubble orbits roughly 340 miles (547 km) above Earth’s surface. It completes 15 orbits per day, circling Earth approximately once every 95 minutes. The observatory moves at a speed of about five miles (8 km) per second, fast enough to travel across the United States in about 10 minutes.
While Hubble orbits, its primary mirror collects light from objects near and far. Its nearly 8 foot (2.4 meter) primary mirror is smaller than those of many professional Earth-based observatories. What makes Hubble so powerful is its position above Earth’s atmosphere. That location offers Hubble a pristine view of the universe and allows it to see wavelengths that are blocked or partially filtered by the atmosphere. Hubble can resolve objects 1,000 times better than the human eye. That’s enough to see two fireflies separated by about 10 feet (3 meters) from roughly the distance between New York City and Tokyo (about 7,000 miles or 11,000 kilometers).