Astronomers declared NASA's newly rejuvenated Hubble Space Telescope observatory a whopping success last week. And the good news was the crowning technical achievement of the year 2009, the International Year of Astronomy.
America's space telescope was recently outfitted with new cameras and other instruments by U.S. space shuttle astronauts. Spectacular images released just last week-from several of the giant orbiting telescope's operating science instruments-reveal jawdropping views of our immense universe.
NASA's high-resolution color images were worth the wait. They include multi-wavelength snaps of galaxies, a star crowded stellar cluster, and a stunning butterfly like nebula cloud (see images on page 1), to name a few.
"Hubble's suite of new instruments allows it to study the universe across a wide swath of the light spectrum, from ultraviolet all the way to near-infrared," according to NASA.
The scope's spectroscopic instruments have pierced billions of years to reveal portions of the spider web-like structure of the universe as well as the distribution of chemical elements that go into the production of stars and life.
"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."
So what makes all the news about Hubble worth celebrating? Well, let's look at all the instrument upgrades-
Several onboard instruments were made more sensitive to light gathering thus improving Hubble's efficiency by a very large factor. Also, other electronic improvements have transformed Hubble into a supercharged version of the 1990s-era space telescope. This 21st-century spacecraft upgrade can now complete deep-sky observations in a fraction of the time of the old 20th-century version.
According to the NASA officials beaming at last week's news conference, scientists have been "focusing, testing, and calibrating" the new instruments since June and the results are beyond their wildest dreams.