It's baaaaaaaack!

By Julianne Dalcanton | September 9, 2009 10:54 am

Remember a few months back, when we were all excited about the Space Shuttle taking a crew of astronauts to fix and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)? At the time, it looked like the repairs worked well (as in, nothing obvious went wrong, electronics woke up and said “hi”, etc). However, until the instruments actually take data, one never knows.

Well, now we know.

Omega Centauri

The new and refurbished instruments officially kick astronomical butt.

Even better, I’ve been hearing rumors of killer numbers, at least for the imaging cameras — throughputs that are 15% better than measured from the ground, electronic read noises that are lower than before the instruments broke a few years back. I have no numbers on the spectrographs, but the press release photos show some nice looking spectra, which is a zillion percent improvement on the pre-repair state of the telescope, for which the only spectroscopic capabilities were grisms (which only the most studly of spectroscopists dare to use). Phil will probably have more, given his history with one of the refurbished spectrographs.

(For the near-infrared channel of the new imager WFC3, I can personally verify awesomeness. We got some imaging during the last month, and had to sign non-disclosure agreements that we would keep our mouths shut, which was nearly impossible because the data quality was insane.)

Anyways, everyone involved in making this happen should be very proud!

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  • ARJ


  • Brian137

    Gorgeous! Thanks, Julianne.

  • lawson

    Why would you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

  • Anonymous Snowboarder

    I checked a number of images posted on the Rubble homepage earlier today. Have they added any before/after shots? I’m sure its obvious for all the specialists but would be a good way to illustrate to the public how much things can improve over a short period of time (since the last fix).

  • Julianne

    lawson — NASA wanted to make a big splash with their gorgeous press release. Having the first images be quick and dirty ones that individual groups slapped together would be less likely to have given the full impression of how good the system is now.

    Anon-Snowboarder — Well, most of the “before” pictures would have been pictures of nothing, because there were no real working spectrographs (and now there’s two), no wide area optical imager (just WFPC2, which was a workhorse, but small and inefficient compared to the two imagers that are working now), and a teeny-tiny inefficient NIR imager (NICMOS). So, “before” pictures would still be pretty, and would have the same high resolution, but they would be of smaller area fields, and would have required much longer exposure times to reach the same science goals.

  • Brian Mingus

    I can’t wait for a refresh of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Anyone know if that is in the works? Hubble Über Deep Field seems like an appropriate name.

  • Lurking Astronomer

    Awesome Omega Cen image… photometry on the .jpg would probably be better than almost all available


  • Peter Coles

    Superimpose that on a tree and it would make a nice Christmas card…

  • John Wendt

    Awesome; thanks, Julianne.

    Looks like the red and blue dots are stars in our galaxy, white dots are distant galaxies?

  • Julianne

    John W — All the dots are stars in the globular cluster (which orbits our galaxy). The brightest red ones are asymptotic giant branch stars and red giant stars. The brightest blue ones are (probably) “blue stragglers” or blue horizontal branch stars. All of these are phases of evolution that many stars eventually go through. Here, it’s a group of stars that all have pretty much the same age. However, different stellar masses evolve at different rates, and sometimes go through different phases (i.e. more mass = faster rate of fuel consumption = faster evolution and more mass for doing fancy nucleosynthesis = different evolution).

    Brian — I’m not sure if an Ultra Mega Hubble Deep Field is the right thing to do. The optical imaging camera was repaired to what it was when the UDF was done (i.e., you’d just get back to where you were). The capabilities at UV and NIR wavelengths, however, are much improved, so maybe better to go back and broaden the wavelength coverage of the original UDF.

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  • TheRadicalModerate

    Are the “blue stragglers” still pop I stars, or is there some mechanism where pop II stars have appeared in the cluster?

  • Shankar

    In the photo above, are the colors natural or have they been rendered?

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  • Brian137

    In post #14, Shankar asks if the colors are natural or “rendered.” I have been hoping someone would address this question. Have the reds and blues been “enhanced,” or are they just the way Captain Kirk sees them out there? Are those beautiful stars wearing makeup, are they just back from the hairdresser’s, or do they really look that way?

  • judith weingarten

    Thanks so much for the heads up. This is a non-physical-scientist’s take on what you wrote: Zenobia Gets To Know Hubble

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