New images from the rejuvenated, more powerful NASA Hubble Space Telescope have universally delighted astronomers. Last week, observations from four of its six operating science instruments were released by NASA. They include colorful, multi-wavelength pictures of far-flung galaxies, a densely-packed star cluster, an eerie ‘pillar of creation’, and a ‘butterfly’ nebula.
Hubble's new instruments allow it to study the universe across a wider light spectrum, from ultraviolet all the way to near-infrared. Scientists also released spectroscopic observations that they hope will give up some more secrets to the universe.
Clearer and faster
The new instruments are more light-sensitive and improve Hubble's observing efficiency significantly. It is able to complete observations in a fraction of the time that was needed with prior generations of Hubble instruments making the space observatory much more powerful than it has been in the past.
"This marks a new beginning for Hubble," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The telescope was given an extreme makeover and now is significantly more powerful than ever, well-equipped to last into the next decade."
"I fought for the Hubble repair mission because Hubble is the people's telescope," said Senator Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA. "I also fought for Hubble because it constantly rewrites the science textbooks. It has more discoveries than any other science mission. Hubble is our greatest example of our astronauts working together with scientists to show American leadership and ingenuity.”
The first official images taken on the newly-upgraded Hubble Space Telescope were with an e2v Charge Coupled Device (CCD imaging sensors). e2v CCDs equip the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), the new instrument installed on Hubble in May 2009.
The WFC3 is 10 times better than the previous camera aboard the telescope and is able to take large-scale, extremely clear and detailed pictures of the universe over a wide range of colors.
"We couldn't be more thrilled with the quality of the images from the new Wide Field Camera 3 and repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys, and the spectra from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph," said Keith Noll, leader of a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which planned the early release observations. "The targets we've selected to showcase the telescope reveal the great range of capabilities in our newly upgraded Hubble."
These results highlight the success of the STS-125 servicing mission in May when the Wide Field Camera 3 and Cosmic Origins Spectrograph were installed, and the Advanced Camera for Surveys and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph were repaired at the circuit board level. Mission scientists also said that the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer were returned to operation during the three months of calibration and testing.
For the past three months, scientists and engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Goddard have been focusing, testing, and calibrating the instruments on-board Hubble.
"On this mission we wanted to replenish the 'tool kit' of Hubble instruments on which scientists around the world rely to carry out their cutting-edge research," said David Leckrone, senior project scientist for Hubble at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Prior to this servicing mission, we had only three unique instrument channels still working, and today we have 13. I'm very proud to be able to say, 'mission accomplished.' "
Hubble now enters a phase of full science observations ranging from studying the population of Kuiper Belt objects at the fringe of our solar system to surveying the birth of planets around other stars.
Plans are afoot to take the deepest-ever near-infrared image of the universe to reveal never-before-seen infant galaxies that existed when the universe was less than 500 million years old. Other planned observations will attempt to shed light on the behavior of dark energy, a repulsive force that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.