A small region inside the globular cluster Omega Centauri, which has nearly 10 million stars

Astronomers unveiled new pictures and observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. With the exception of a picture last month of the bruise on Jupiter caused by a comet, they were the first data obtained with the telescope since a crew spent 13 days in orbit last May replacing, refurbishing and rebuilding its vital components.  (Pics)


“This is truly Hubble’s new beginning,” Edward Weiler, the associate administrator for science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said at a news conference in Washington.

The event, which included Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, and the NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., who is retired from the Marine Corps, was a mix of science and celebration of the human spirit and innovation.


Image of hot gas fleeing a dying star 3,800 light-years away in the Scorpius constellation

“I’m in awe of the human ingenuity that could conceive of such a thing and then make it happen,” said K. Megan McArthur, an astronaut who flew on the repair mission last spring

Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., said, “We’re giddy with the quality of the data we’re getting.”

spiral galaxy

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 is six million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.

Among the images were gas flying from a dying star that looked like a butterfly spreading its wings, and a galaxy nearly 10 billion light-years away whose image had been stretched and magnified by the gravity of a cluster of galaxies into a “dragon” shape. Examining such images, astronomers can study details of galaxies that existed before the Milky Way was born and chart the distribution of mysterious dark matter in the universe.


A cluster of galaxies known as Abell 370 was observed with the Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys

Dr. Weiler noted that the telescope was now in the best shape of its 19-year life in orbit, far surpassing the ambitions of its founders, and that it could last for at least another five years.

“Hubble gets better and better and better,” he said.

high def

A famous galaxy quintet reveals an assortment of stars across a wide color range, from young, blue stars to aging, red stars

The telescope has had almost as many reincarnations as a cat. It was born in a vision of Lyman Spitzer, a Princeton astronomer who realized in 1946 that a telescope in space above the blurring effects of the atmosphere could make more precise measurements of stars, as well as see infrared and ultraviolet radiation that cannot make it through air.

Launched with great fanfare from the space shuttle in 1990, the telescope became a national joke when it was discovered that its primary mirror had been painstakingly polished to the wrong shape.


Two images of the Carina Nebula taken in visible and in infrared light

The mistake was so simple, however, that it could be repaired. In 1993, an astronaut crew installed corrective optics on the telescope, and the heavens snapped into focus. Astronauts have visited the telescope four more times in a series of increasingly ambitious servicing missions, and the telescope became increasingly powerful.

By the time of the final servicing mission, only one of the telescope’s three cameras was working and its spectrograph had shut down. In May, a crew from the shuttle Atlantis installed a new camera and spectrograph and repaired the other spectrograph and the telescope’s prime camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, among other tasks.

The job was almost a complete success. The exception was that the astronauts were unable to restore a high-resolution capability on the survey camera. It is mostly used in a wide-field mode, astronomers say, but one of the more exciting Hubble pictures recently was a high-resolution image of a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut obtained by Paul G. Kalas of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues.

At the news conference, David S. Leckrone, longtime Hubble senior scientist, announced that another of the telescope’s instruments, an infrared camera known as Nicmos that had been dormant but that had not been worked on by the astronauts, was now back.

Dr. Leckrone said he was proud to report that there were no problems with the spacecraft.

“Somehow,” he said, addressing the entire NASA and astronomical community, “you guys managed to pull it off.”

Dr. Weiler, the NASA associate administrator, thanked the 32 astronauts “who have risked their lives flying up to Hubble and keeping the scientists happy.”

Asked their reactions to seeing the new pictures, most of the astronauts who were on the mission in May said some version of “wow.” Michael J. Massimino, who performed two spacewalks then, said, “Thank God we didn’t break it.”

Via New York Times