It’s a countdown of cosmic proportions! In just six days, NASA will release the first images from the newly refurbished Hubble Space Telescope. These Early Release Observations (EROs) will be showcased at news briefings from NASA Headquarters at 15:00 GMT and 16:00 GMT (11 a.m. and noon EDT) Wednesday, Sept. 9 on NASA TV. The past few weeks, the Hubble team has concentrated on making high-priority science observations and finishing up instrument calibrations. Any clues as to what the first new images will include? Hubble scientists say the new images will be the first true display of the power of Hubble’s new technology, dazzling amateur and professional astronomers with a wealth of new information and areas for research. Here’s what the Hubble team has been working the past few weeks:
•The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) has been completing its checkout, but it is now taking science images on a regular basis.
•The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) is finished with its calibration activities and completing its work in support of Hubble’s EROs.
•The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) is in the final phases of its calibrations for both its near-ultraviolet and far-ultraviolet channels. The channels, which study different wavelengths of ultraviolet light, must be calibrated separately. For example, engineers and scientists are continuing to test the focus for the far-ultraviolet channel, while the near-ultraviolet channel’s focus appears to be good.
•The cooling system for the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) has cooled the instrument down to operational levels, which is great news. NICMOS was not serviced during the STS-125 mission, but it was shut down in September 2008 following an anomaly during a spacecraft computer update. Engineers tried turning it on in July 2009, but the cooling system failed. But on on August 1, the cooling system restarted without the previous problems. “NICMOS began cooling efficiently,” said Frank Summers in the Hubble Blog, “and actually faster than expected. Note that when we say “cool,” we really mean “cold.” Really cold. Beyond Arctic, mind-numbing, freezingly cold. NICMOS is cooled to -321 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature needed for infrared observations.”
It takes NICMOS more than a week to achieve that temperature. Then the instrument must show stability at those temperatures for science to be possible. Engineers have now turned on the detectors to begin the several-week calibration process for NICMOS. So far so good, and surely we’ll hear more about NICMOS during the news briefing next week.
And there will pictures, too!
Anybody else excited?