The Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 24, 2001
September 24, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 4


HUT Takes Flight at the Smithsonian

Hopkins telescope is part of new permanent exhibit at Air and Space Museum

By Michael Purdy

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, an orbiting observatory built at Johns Hopkins that flew aboard the space shuttle twice, started its newest flight at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on Friday, Sept. 21, as part of a new permanent exhibit called Explore the Universe.

In conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, the Physics and Astronomy Department in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences is holding a memorial tribute honoring HUT's principal investigator, astronomy professor Arthur Davidsen. The tribute will be held this Friday, Sept. 28, at 3 p.m. in the Schafler Auditorium of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy.

Davidsen, 57, died on July 19 of complications from a lung disorder. He made a number of pioneering contributions to ultraviolet astronomy and to the study of material in the vast gulfs between galaxies. He also was the principal driving force behind the successful effort to get the Space Telescope Science Institute, the facility that operates the Hubble Space Telescope and is planning for its successor, placed on the Hopkins campus.

"We were very much the underdog," reminisced Paul Feldman, chairman of the Physics and Astronomy Department, of the competition for the institute in the late 1970s. "Everyone knew it was going to Princeton, and we were a real long shot."

Davidsen and the other astronomers who worked on HUT designed it to study previously unexplored regions of ultraviolet light rich with information about distant stars and quasars, star clusters and even objects in our solar system like Jupiter's moon Io. HUT flew aboard the space shuttle in 1990 and 1995.

As he prepared earlier this year to ship HUT to the world's most popular museum, Davidsen expressed a mixture of pride at HUT's selection and nostalgia for another chance to fly the telescope in the shuttle.

At the time, Davidsen said, "I told my son, who's a freshman in college, that HUT was going to Air and Space, and he said going there was much cooler than going into orbit one more time. I can't go that far myself, but I certainly am thrilled and pleased because it validates the importance of the project."

David Dvorkin, curator of Explore the Universe, said, "HUT demonstrated that the intergalactic medium--the environment out of which galaxies formed long ago--is not uniform but clumpy."

In addition to HUT, Explore the Universe features other tools and techniques for probing the universe developed by astronomers over the course of the centuries. Also included are the backup mirror for HST, instruments removed from HST by astronauts during orbital servicing missions, the 20-foot telescope tube used by William Herschel to produce the first-ever mapping of the entire night sky, and the observing cage from the telescope astronomer Edwin Hubble used to determine that the universe is made up of galaxies that are moving away from each other.