26 years later and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope continues to blow us away with stunning views of the cosmos. From a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune.

neptune hubble

To peering deep into the Large Magellanic Cloud.

large Magellanic cloud hubble

That’s just in the past two months. And NASA isn’t done yet.

Hubble’s gaze into the final frontier was recently extended for another five years. NASA awarded just over $196 million in a contract extension to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. The contract covers science operations for the Hubble from July 1 through June 30, 2021.

The Hubble is in great shape. The five-year mission extension means the Hubble will stay in operation as its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, joins it in Earth orbit in 2018.

When will Hubble finally pass the torch?

The James Webb Space Telescope is often dubbed the Hubble’s successor. And 2016 has been a busy year. In February, the 18th and final primary mirror segment was installed completing the 21.3-foot diameter mirror.

JWST mirror installation

In May, two dozen engineers scurried around the JWST installing its science instrument package. It’s these instruments that will take the light gathered by the telescope’s massive mirror and turn it into the next set of stunning images.

Two years from now, the JWST launch into space and begin answering the mysteries left unanswered by Hubble.

But when will Hubble finally pass the torch? When will it take its last image? Barring any unforeseen issues, we know Hubble will operate until at least June 30, 2021. Time is Hubble’s biggest obstacle.

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NASA can keep extending the mission until around 2030-2040. By then, officials believe the combined effects of solar activity and atmospheric drag will bring Hubble back to Earth. The historic telescope will end with a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Until then, sit back and enjoy the fantastic images Hubble gives us every day.

hubble diamond

hubble galaxies

hubble red rectangle

Hubble spiral galaxy

Image credits: NASA

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