The Last WFPC2 Image from Hubble

By Julianne Dalcanton | May 13, 2009 9:41 am
next to last picture from WFPC2

During their rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Astronaut Repair and Wrecking Crew will be decommissioning HST’s longest serving instrument — the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, known as “wiff-pick-too”. NASA has been, correctly, describing WFPC2 as “The Camera the Saved Hubble” (see this video for a nice history). They’ve also been touting the last “pretty picture” taken by WFPC2 — a rather nifty planetary nebula

However, while K4-55 may be the last officially pretty picture, I’m absurdly stoked that the very last picture will be one taken by a program that my team and I are running. I knew there was a good chance, based upon a schedule we got a week and a half ago, but I wasn’t sure exactly when they’d safe the telescope.

IC 5152

But, sure enough, we snagged the “last ever” spot (as Steinn deduced before I was planning on outing myself)! The last WFPC2 exposure ended at 21:03:12 on May 11th, the evening after the launch. It was of IC5152 — a dwarf galaxy in the local universe.

I’m not quite sure why I’m so excited by this, but I suppose it’s that this is a camera I essentially grew up with (scientifically speaking). I was in grad school when HST launched, and when the tragic flaw in the mirror was found. WFPC2 was installed before I graduated, so I got to see HST restored to glory before I set forth as a scientist. It’s nice to be sending it off in style.

I’ll add a pretty picture of the real last WFPC2 image as soon as we make one!

UPDATE: Just to clarify, IC5152 was the last General Observer image. There was one more “snapshot” photo taken of a galaxy cluster by Eberling and friends. Both should be purty!

  • Steinn Sigurdsson

    Congratulations, again!
    Still wish it had been NGC6441 instead…
    I wanted that data.

  • Tszap


    Big-science “lasts” are a slightly morbid but interesting topic.

    My personal one: my dissertation used the very last protons ever accelerated by Fermilab’s original Main Ring.

  • Phil Plait

    That’s very cool, congrats.

    I was disappointed with the final release image; it’s OK, but I’ve come to expect a lot more from PNe observations! But then, we’ll be seeing WF3 images soon enough, and those will rock the house.

  • Ellipsis

    To be a curmudgeon, beauty should be defined by science output, rather than how many false colors one can render an image in.

  • coolstar

    Aesthetically, I actually prefer Julianne’s image of IC5152 to the planetary. The dwarf galaxy is somehow stylishly elegant while the planetary is just garish. I’d be stoked about having the last image too. Someone should do a citation search comparing WFPC2 to other productive instruments. My money would be on WFPC2.

  • David Nataf


    What scientific content are you seeking to extract from the image of IC5152?

    Coolstar: I think Julianne’s image has not been reduced/posted yet, the one I see on this page is a link to the wikipedia page on IC5152, and the image was taken June 19th, 2008.

  • Julianne

    David — We’ve been working on establishing a database of stellar populations for nearby galaxies (see The idea is that with HST, you can resolve individual stars within galaxies (provided they’re close — less than 4 Mpc or so). The distribution of colors and magnitudes of those stars tell you when the stars were born, and with what metal content. Understanding how such things vary with position within a galaxy, and from galaxy-to-galaxy, is a useful complement to the in situ studies people do at high redshift.


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