Hubble's greatest hits!Skip navigation



1. Grease monkeys in space

2. Some instamatic camera!

3. Image gallery

4. Quirky quasars

5. Spectacular spectrum

6. This star done gone

7. What's making these gamma rays?

8. Wheel of stars

9. Gaseous galaxy

10. Really northern lights

11. Ships do it

12. Demolition derby





One snazzy camera
Man in clean suit holds gold-colored circular part with rectangular detector at center.Ask any buyer of electronic cameras. When it comes to pixels in the light detector, more is better. NASA's gotten the message, and the Advanced Camera for Surveys that was just bolted onto the Hubble Space Telescope boasts a honking 4096 x 4096 detector.

This detector, 4096 pixels on a side, provides the kind of high-resolution images that make astronomers drool. Courtesy Ball Aerospace.

Let us do the math for you: that's 16,777,216 tiny pixels, ready to record light coming from deep space. Each pixel on the Advanced Camera is half as large as those on the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, Hubble's previous workhorse instrument.

The new camera, scheduled to start operating in a few weeks, can also see a wider portion of the spectrum, ranging from ultraviolet, through visible light, into the infra-red. That means, among other things, that it will be able to look further back in time -- to within a billion years of the universe's creation in the Big Bang.

Not bigger, but better
Black hexagonal box on rotating stand in white NASA clean room. This high-tech phone booth could make Hubble an even better observatory. It's already bolted into place and undergoing a shakedown. NASA and STScI.

The camera is also supposed to work faster. One of Hubble's proudest pix, for example, was a 10-day exposure of deepest, darkest space. The new gadget promises to do the same thing in "just" three days. It should also do a better job of studying quasars, brown dwarfs, distant galaxies -- and, with luck, give the first pictures of planets in nearby solar systems.

The ACS actually contains three instruments:

Wide field camera: Operating in the visible and near-infrared spectrum, this camera will survey galaxies in the early universe.

High resolution camera: Designed for the best resolution (ability to distinguish distant objects), the camera will search for massive black holes, and gaze at ordinary galaxies and star clusters.

Solar blind camera: Working in the far-ultraviolet spectrum, this instrument will search for hot stars and quasars.

The big camera sports accessories. The "coronagraph" will block the bright light of stars and distant galaxies, allowing the camera to see interesting nearby stuff -- like existing or still-forming planets and dim stars. Filters mounted on a wheel will block selected bands of light, so the camera can focus on certain parts of the spectrum.

Hubble floats above Earth as astronauts replace large, flat  rectangular panels.
At the start of the recent repair mission, Hubble's solar arrays were rolled up into their middle strut, ready for removal. NASA.

Holland Ford, a Johns Hopkins University astronomer who is the Advanced Camera's principal investigator, predicts that the gizmo will see more faint objects in 18 months than Hubble saw in 10 incredibly productive years.

Want to see some of Hubble's greatest scientific hits?



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