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From an inspiration POV, I'm fairly sure that the main reason the HST had a recent refit instead of being junked was because it's been such an impressive source of pretty pictures. Some of the images have become iconic and instantly recognisable.

But ask the hypothetical average person to name one piece of astrophysics the HST has influenced, and you'll get a blank look.

The great thing about these amateur images is that they look Hubble-ish but someone took them from their back garden. It's not totally impossible that someone will see them, wonder how they were done, and start finding out about telescopes and CCDs. From there it's not a huge step to Real Science - if only because you need to know what the different colour filters actually filter so you can use them properly.

You can get good astrophotographic images for a lot less than 20k, and if you happen to grow up with a back garden telescope and are curious, it's not a trivial resource to get you started in a professional direction.

The problem with Malin's images is that they're not accessible in the same way. If you need to travel to Mauna Kea, Las Palmas or some other Giant Scope Home to take your shots, or (more likely) book time on same remotely, you've eliminated that experience of participation for most people.

What would be immensely cool - and almost certainly won't happen, because it would be too damn expensive - would be for Hubble to become a public access telescope after it's decommissioned. I'm not sure how much STSCI costs to run, but it's not completely unlikely that there are a few million amateurs worldwide who'd be willing to pay £100 a year for a chance to get some CCD time on Hubble.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 08:05:31 PM EST
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