The Last Mission To Save Hubble

Today, seven astronauts left Earth in one last attempt to save the Hubble Space Telescope. At nineteen years old, Hubble is aging and in need of major repairs. It's also dying a slow death -- at some point around 2015, Hubble's electrical system will fail for good, and then we'll finally have to let go. Today the New York Times has an article about the mission, and the various contingency plans that have been laid in case of (another) space shuttle disaster. The article explains the poignant reality of repairing the Hubble -- we need the space shuttle to get there, and the shuttles are all themselves reaching the end of their useful lives. Here's a snippet:

So if it is the beginning of the last act for the Hubble, the flight Monday also marks the beginning of the end for the space shuttle, whose greatest legacy might very well be the role it played in the repair and maintenance of the Hubble, what Commander Altman recently called "an incredible example of how humans and machines can work together."

Dr. Grunsfeld, who has earned the sobriquet of "Hubble repairman" for his previous exploits in space with the telescope, said: "The only reason Hubble works is because we have a space shuttle. And of all things we do, I think Hubble is probably the best thing we use it for."

As Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, put it, "It's not just a telescope, it's the people's telescope."

For lots of great Hubble photos, check out Boston's Big Picture blog from December: Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008. For more on the telescope's history, see Wikipedia's excellent Hubble Space Telescope article.

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


More from mental floss studios