1 April 2002
Hubble flies with new eyes
Baltimore—Applying a version of space age LASIK surgery, NASA expanded the vision of the Hubble Space Telescope tenfold.
NASA conducted its fourth servicing mission to give the orbital observatory a series of upgrades that includes the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and a new instrument package that will hike the telescope’s vision.
"If you had two fireflies 6 feet apart in Tokyo, Hubble’s vision with ACS will be so fine that it will be able to tell from Washington, D.C., that they were two different fireflies instead of one," said Holland Ford, professor of astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and leader of the team that built the ACS.
Ford said he thinks the strength of the ACS may allow researchers to gather evidence of planets in other solar systems. Researchers have found planets around many stars. However, detection has come through the gravitational wobbles they impart to their stars rather than through a direct image of the planets themselves.
"I think that there is a chance" we’ll be able to directly image a planet, said Ford.
The ACS replaced an instrument currently in Hubble known as the Faint Object Camera, which is the last of Hubble’s original instruments. After catching Hubble with the shuttle’s robot arm and securing it in the shuttle’s payload bay, spacewalking astronauts opened the servicing doors on Hubble, removed the Faint Object Camera, and installed the ACS.
The ACS weighs 870 pounds and is "about the size of an old-fashioned phone booth," Ford said. Inside the ACS are three electronic cameras (a wide-field, a high-resolution, and a solar blind camera) and a range of filters, polarizers, dispersers, and other astronomical tools. ACS detects radiation ranging from the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum through visible light to a portion of the spectrum known as near infrared.
All of the ACS instruments take advantage of new techniques and technology developed since Hubble’s inception to deliver increased observing power at greatly reduced costs.