Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, and entered service on May 20, 1990. Since then, it has observed all the planets in our Solar System, apart from Earth and Mercury. Earth is far better studied by geologists on the ground and specialized probes in orbit. Hubble can’t observe Mercury as it is too close to the Sun, whose brightness would damage the telescope’s sensitive instruments.
Here are the best images of the planets (except Earth and Mercury) and some non-planets of our Solar System through the eye of the Hubble Space Telescope.
To date, Hubble’s high-resolution images of the planets and moons in our Solar System can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit them. But, Hubble even has one advantage over these probes: it can look at these objects periodically and so observe them over much longer periods (years) than any passing probe could.
Related: Hubble Space Telescope Launch
Hubble Space Telescope photos of Solar System planets, dwarf planets, and moons
This is a NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope ultraviolet-light image of the planet Venus, taken on January 24, 1995, when Venus was at a distance of 114 million kilometers (71 million miles) from Earth. Venus is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light.
It is the second-brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon, reaching an apparent magnitude of -4.6, bright enough to cast shadows at night and, rarely, visible to the naked eye in broad daylight. Orbiting within Earth’s orbit, Venus is an inferior planet and never appears to venture far from the Sun; its maximum angular distance from the Sun (elongation) is 47.8°.
In a change of venue from peering at the distant universe, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken a look at Earth’s closest neighbor in space, the Moon.
Hubble was aimed at one of the Moon’s most dramatic and photogenic targets, the 58 mile-wide (93 km) impact crater Copernicus. The image was taken while the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) was aimed at a different part of the moon to measure the colors of sunlight reflected off the Moon.
Hubble cannot look at the Sun directly and so must use reflected light to make measurements of the Sun’s spectrum. Once calibrated by measuring the Sun’s spectrum, the STIS can be used to study how the planets both absorb and reflect sunlight. (upper left) The Moon is so close to Earth that Hubble would need to take a mosaic of 130 pictures to cover the entire disk.
This ground-based picture from Lick Observatory shows the area covered in Hubble’s photomosaic with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. (center) Hubble’s crisp bird’s-eye view clearly shows the ray pattern of bright dust ejected out of the crater over one billion years ago when an asteroid larger than a mile across slammed into the Moon.
Hubble can resolve features as small as 600 feet (183 meters) across in the terraced walls of the crater, and the hummock-like blanket of material blasted out by the meteor impact. (lower right) A close-up view of Copernicus’ terraced walls. Hubble can resolve features as small as 280 feet (85 meters) across.
Related: Amazing Moon facts
This photo of Mars, acquired by the Hubble Space Telescope on June 26, 2001, is dubbed as the “best Earth-based view of Mars ever”, despite it having been taken by the orbiting telescope. Mars was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km) from Earth – its closest approach to our planet since 1988.
Hubble can see details as small as 10 miles (16 km) across on Mars. Especially striking is the large amount of seasonal dust storm activity seen in this image. One large storm system is churning high above the northern polar cap (top of image), and a smaller dust storm cloud can be seen nearby. Another large dust storm is spilling out of the giant Hellas impact basin in the Southern Hemisphere (lower right).
This full-disk image of Jupiter was taken on April 21, 2014, with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm, 22 degrees south of the planet’s equator.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is the largest storm in the Solar System. It has been continuously observed since 1830. Earlier observations from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm; if this is correct, it has existed for at least 350 years.
The first recorded observation of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was by the English natural philosopher, architect, and polymath Robert Hooke (1635-1703) in 1665. Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712) referred to it as the “Eye of Jupiter” when he saw it through his telescope in 1666.
Between 1666 and 1708 the Red Spot seems to have vanished at least eight times. The English astronomer William Dawes (1799-1868), famous for his drawings of Mars, observed it in 1857, and by 1883 it had faded until it was almost invisible.
Then, in 1878, it became a vivid red color and that is when it was given its name. Since 1878 it has faded until its present tan color. The Great Red Spot also varies in size (it is currently shrinking). It is presently around 24,000 km (14,913 mi) long but has been up to 48,000 km (29,826) in length. It reached this maximum size at the end of the 19th century. Even at its present size, two piles of earth could fit comfortably inside it.
As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was hurtling toward a July 1, 2004 rendezvous with Saturn, the Hubble Space Telescope continued snapping breathtaking pictures of the solar system’s most photogenic planet.
This view, taken on March 22, 2004, is so sharp that many individual ringlets can be seen in Saturn’s ring plane. Though Hubble was nearly a billion miles (1.6 billion km) farther from Saturn than the Cassini probe when this photo was taken, Hubble’s exquisite optics, coupled with the high resolution of its Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), allowed the space telescope to take pictures of Saturn which are nearly as sharp as Cassini’s wide-angle views of the full planet as it began its approach.
Of course, Cassini would ultimately far exceed the resolution of Hubble during its close encounter with Saturn; indeed, Cassini’s sharpness began to surpass Hubble’s when it approached within 14 million miles (23 million km) of Saturn.
Taken with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope this 2004 image reveals in natural colors Uranus‘ faint rings and several of its satellites.
This 2016 image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope confirms the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. The full visible-light image shows that the dark feature resides near and below a patch of bright clouds in the planet’s southern hemisphere. The dark spot measures roughly 4,800 kilometers (2,983 miles) across. Other high-altitude clouds can be seen in the planet’s equatorial region and polar regions.
Pluto and Charon
The image was taken by the European Space Agency’s Faint Object Camera (FOC) on February 21, 1994, when the planet was 2.6 billion miles (4.4 billion kilometers) from Earth; or nearly 30 times the separation between Earth and the Sun (30 Astronomical Units – AU).
Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest and most massive of the Solar System’s moons. With a mean radius of 2634.1±0.3 km (about 1636 miles), Ganymede is 8% larger than the planet Mercury (2,439.7 km), although only 45% as massive. This photo of Ganymede is acquired by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.
- “The solar neighborhood” on the Hubble Space Telescope website
- Hubble Space Telescope on Wikipedia
- Great Red Spot on Wikipedia
- Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on saburchill.com
- 6 Reasons Why Life is Based on Carbon Instead of Silicon - September 9, 2023
- Why are whales unlikely to get cancer? [Peto’s Paradox explained] - September 3, 2023
- 5 Reasons Why We Should Search for Exomoons - August 27, 2023