Hubble Gets Back to Work

After three weeks of tests, NASA controllers have given the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope a clean bill of health. Initial tests are largely complete; however, calibrations of the observatory’s instruments are expected to continue for another two months. Routine science observations have now resumed using the telescope’s Imaging Spectrograph and the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

After three weeks of in-orbit checkout, following its deployment from Space Shuttle Columbia on March 9, the Hubble Space Telescope has been declared healthy and fit by engineers and scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Initial checkout of the spacecraft and instruments has largely been completed. However, the calibration process for the instruments will continue for another two months. The new rigid solar arrays, coupled with the new Power Control Unit, are working perfectly, generating 27 percent more electrical power than the old arrays. This increase in power roughly doubles the power available to the scientific instruments. The new reaction wheel is operating normally.

The powerful new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) is now undergoing its final optical alignment and focus checks. The image quality of individual stars observed in a standard calibration field is excellent. The Advanced Camera’s light-sensing detectors are also working very well. It is anticipated that the first Early Release Observations of astronomical targets taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys will be available around the first week in May.

The new, high-tech mechanical cooler inserted by the Astronauts during SM3B has been working continuously and properly since March 18. The cooler?s intended purpose is to attempt to resuscitate the dormant Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), which depleted its expendable solid nitrogen coolant in January 1999. Although this new ?refrigerator?, dubbed the NICMOS Cooling System (NCS), has been reliably generating the amount of cooling power expected, Hubble engineers report that the NICMOS instrument is cooling down more slowly than originally expected. Because it will take longer to reach the proper operating temperature, below approximately 80 degrees Kelvin, the initial checkout and scientific observations with NICMOS will be delayed for several weeks.

Routine science observations have now resumed with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the two instruments that were operating on Hubble prior to Servicing Mission 3B. On another note, a gyro (Gyro 3) that had not been performing as well as it should prior to the mission resumed perfect operation after it was turned off and re-started while Hubble was in Columbia’s payload bay.

The Space Shuttle Columbia journeyed to the Hubble Space Telescope for the fourth servicing mission on March 1, 2002. During a series of five spacewalks, Astronauts installed new hardware and upgraded older systems, leaving the telescope better than ever. After a successful mission spanning 11 days in orbit, the shuttle landed safely on March 12 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Hubble Reveals Blue Galaxy Ablaze with Star Formation

A new photo released from the Hubble Space Telescope shows how galaxy NGC 7673 is teeming with hot star nurseries. Located 150 million light years away in the constellation of Pegasus, each cluster in this new photograph contains thousands of infant stars burning at incredibly high temperatures. Astronomers aren’t sure why this galaxy is so active, but it could be because the galaxy collided with another millions of years ago.

Hubble Reveals Bow Shock Around Young Star

Image credit: Hubble

Even though the Hubble Space Telescope is out of commission while it’s upgraded, older images are still being released to the public. This image, actually taken back in 1995, reveals how a bow shock has formed around a young, hot star located in the Orion Nebula. The star, LL Ori emits a powerful solar wind that collides with the slower moving gas of the Orion Nebula. This bow shock, similar to that found at the front of a boat, is formed where the two winds collide.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope continues to reveal various stunning and intricate treasures that reside within the nearby, intense star-forming region known as the Great Nebula in Orion. One such jewel is the bow shock around the very young star, 1998 WW31, featured in this Hubble Heritage image.

Named for the crescent-shaped wave made by a ship as it moves through water, a bow shock can be created in space when two streams of gas collide. LL Ori emits a vigorous solar wind, a stream of charged particles moving rapidly outward from the star. Our own Sun has a less energetic version of this wind that is responsible for auroral displays on the Earth.

The material in the fast wind from LL Ori collides with slow-moving gas evaporating away from the center of the Orion Nebula, which is located to the lower right in this Heritage image. The surface where the two winds collide is the crescent-shaped bow shock seen in the image.

Unlike a water wave made by a ship, this interstellar bow shock is a three-dimensional structure. The filamentary emission has a very distinct boundary on the side facing away from LL Ori, but is diffuse on the side closest to the star, a characteristic common to many bow shocks.

A second, fainter bow shock can be seen around a star near the upper right-hand corner of the Heritage image. Astronomers have identified numerous shock fronts in this complex star-forming region and are using this data to understand the many complex phenomena associated with the birth of stars.

This image was taken in February 1995 as part of the Hubble Orion Nebula mosaic. A close visitor in our Milky Way galaxy, the nebula is only 1,500 light-years from Earth. The filters used in this color composite represent oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen emissions.

Original Source: Hubble News Release

Hubble Gets a New Camera

Image credit: NASA

During a seven and a half hour spacewalk today, astronauts James Newman and Michael Massimino installed the Advanced Camera for Surveys onto the Hubble Space Telescope – a camera system ten times more powerful than what Hubble had previously. This is the fourth of five spacewalks carried out by the Columbia crew, who are due to return back to Earth on March 12th. The next spacewalk is due for Friday.
Following today?s successful installation of the new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists will be able to see farther into our universe and with greater clarity and speed than ever before.

Columbia?s spacewalkers, Jim Newman and Mike Massimino, began the first science instrument upgrade of this servicing mission at 3 a.m. central time. The duo, with Newman on the shuttle?s robotic arm, began by removing the last of Hubble?s original science instruments, the Faint Object Camera to make room for the ACS. Newman and Massimino first opened Hubble?s aft shroud doors, removing the Faint Object Camera and temporarily stowing it at the edge of Columbia?s payload bay. After installing the ACS in the Hubble, Newman and Massimino stowed the old camera in the payload bay for its return to Earth.

Then Massimino, on the shuttle?s robotic arm, installed the Electronic Support Module in the aft shroud, with Newman?s assistance. That module will support a new experimental cooling system to be installed during tomorrow?s fifth and final scheduled spacewalk of the mission. That cooling system is designed to bring the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) back to life.

Finally, Newman and Massimino completed some remaining cleanup tasks from yesterday?s Power Control Unit installation.

During the first half of the spacewalk, mission specialist Nancy Currie operated the shuttle?s robotic arm, providing transportation to and from the various worksites on both the Hubble and in Columbia?s payload bay ? Commander Scott Altman then took over operation of the arm to maneuver Massimino through his tasks.

Fellow spacewalkers John Grunsfeld and Rick Linnehan worked from inside the shuttle to choreograph the spacewalk, as Altman and Pilot Duane Carey continued to provide photo and video documentation of the work.

Initial functional tests on the ACS and the electronics module conducted by the Space Telescope Operations Control Center in Greenbelt, Md. were both good. Functional tests of the telescope’s scientific instruments will not be completed, however, until after the telescope is released from Columbia and its aperture door is opened.

The crew is to begin its sleep period at 2:52 p.m. CST. The next STS-109 mission status report will be issued Thursday evening following crew wake-up, or as events warrant.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Hubble Gets New Solar Panels

Spacewalking astronauts spent their second day outside the space shuttle Columbia on Tuesday, adding a second new solar array to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 7-hour, 16-minute spacewalk, astronauts James Newman and Michael Massimino also replaced one of the telescope’s stabilizing gyroscopes. The newly installed solar arrays are smaller than the telescope’s previous arrays, but they actually provide 20% more power. Three more spacewalks are still planned.

Hubble Reveals Backwards Galaxy

The latest image released from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a spiral galaxy that seems to be rotating in the wrong direction. Astronomers expected that galaxy NGC 4622, located 111 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, should rotate counter-clockwise but it actually goes clockwise. It’s believed that the galaxy consumed a smaller companion galaxy recently which helped reverse its spin.