HST is in Low Earth Orbit. It can of course not look through Earth which at that low altitude covers almost half of the sky. As far as I know it is also never pointed even remotely close to the direction of the Sun for safety reasons. When the HST is in between the Sun and the Earth, once every 90 minutes, what can it look at then?


2 Answers 2


Wikipedia lists several angles in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope

Observations cannot take place when the telescope passes through the South Atlantic Anomaly due to elevated radiation levels, and there are also sizable exclusion zones around the Sun (precluding observations of Mercury), Moon and Earth. The solar avoidance angle is about 50°, to keep sunlight from illuminating any part of the OTA. Earth and Moon avoidance keeps bright light out of the FGSs, and keeps scattered light from entering the instruments. ... There is a so-called continuous viewing zone (CVZ), at roughly 90° to the plane of Hubble's orbit, in which targets are not occulted for long periods.

So, +-50° away from sun (not ~180° as in Hohmannfan's answer) and some angle from Earth (and its limb) gives a lot of usable space for any moment of time...

Some older HST Primers have an exact value of prohibited angles (but they are not listed for cycle 24): ftp://ftp.stsci.edu/cdbs/perigee/jyounger/cp_primer/Ch_2_Systemoverview5.html#1876818 - Hubble Space Telescope Primer for Cycle 11, 2.4 Pointing Constraints

the telescope does not observe targets that are

  • within 50 degrees of the Sun;
  • within 15.5 degrees of any illuminated portion of the Earth;
  • within 7.6 degrees of the dark limb of the Earth; or
  • within 9 degrees of the Moon.

180 degrees of the sky is occupied by the Earth. 180 degrees of the field of view will cause sunlight to reflect in the optics of Hubble, causing unrecoverable damage. Nothing left then. The "downtime" is usually spent re-targeting and changing the observation setup. Even though non of the angles are as great as 180 degrees, the optics still requires a "shadow zone" margin of significant width, making the avoidance zone hemispherical in practise.


NOTE: This answer is actually wrong in three different ways.

  • $\begingroup$ So a dawn dusk polar orbit (LEO over the terminator) would've allowed for more observation time, by tens of percents or so. But too hard to reach for the space shuttle. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Apr 18, 2016 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff That may be, but a little Sunlight all the time might be even worse. $\endgroup$ Apr 18, 2016 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff: I suspect the above diagram only occurs for the few minutes that Hubble is truly between Earth and Sun, not for the entire daylight half of Hubble's orbit. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Apr 18, 2016 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ Hohmannfan, real angle away from sun is not +-90° (180), but only +-50° (100) according to HST Primer stsci.edu/hst/proposing/documents/primer/… "Hubble Space Telescope Primer for Cycle 24 - 2.3 Pointing Constraints - The target-to-sun angle at the time of observation must be greater that 50°." There was good image for Spitzer, but I can't find something like this for HST - ssc.spitzer.caltech.edu/warmmission/propkit/som/constraints/… - it had much larger sun avoidance angle (80), still around 40% of all sphere $\endgroup$
    – osgx
    Apr 19, 2016 at 0:50

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