CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Tech banner

With upgrade, Hubble offers new glimpse of space

May 12, 1997
Web posted at: 7:34 p.m. EDT (2334 GMT)

(CNN) -- The birth and death of stars, and new evidence of super-massive black holes, were among the phenomenon captured in the first pictures provided Monday by the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope.

The Orion nebula

Space-walking shuttle astronauts installed the new equipment during a service call three months ago, and scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration offered a progress report on how the orbiting telescope is faring.

Astronauts repairing the Hubble telescope

"With these images, we are lifting the dusty veil of secrecy from star birth and star death," said Rodger Thompson, chief scientist for the newly installed Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

"NICMOS has expanded Hubble's range of vision into the near infrared," said project scientist David Leckrone, "and has expanded the clarity with which we can see the universe into places that we couldn't see before, into dusty regions housing newborn stars and housing stars going through ... their death throes."

For example, with the Orion nebula, NICMOS reveals features that couldn't be seen before in a region where new stars are coming into existence.

The Egg nebula

NICMOS offers similar detail of the Egg nebula, a dust-and-gas cloud about 3,000 light-years (18 quadrillion miles) from Earth, where a star is blasting twin jets of gas and dust into space as it dies.

One camera out of focus

But NICMOS isn't running at full power, as one of its three cameras is out of commission.

Camera Three developed distorted vision soon after its February installation when a block of super-cold nitrogen, which was meant to cool the instrument over its four-and-a-half-year life span, thawed faster than expected.

Now the scientists believe the instrument may function as briefly as 18 months to two years and so they plan to increase the percentage of time NICMOS is used.

I M A G E S     F R O M    H U B B L E
Q U I C K T I M E    S L I D E S H O W S
movie icon Dr. Rodger Thompson explains a new image in the Orion Nebula. 32 sec / 305k QuickTime slideshow
movie icon Dr. Rodger Thompson explains a new image in the Egg Nebula. 1:21 / 637k QuickTime slideshow
movie icon Dr. Bruce Woodgate explains a new image of what he says is a Black Hole. 31 sec. / 313k QuickTime slideshow

Ed Weiler, Hubble's chief astronomer, said that the camera has been correcting its focus slowly and irregularly over the last weeks and may eventually focus as originally intended. Astronomers will check it again in about six months, he said.

Even if it never works properly, it only accounts for 6 percent of Hubble's scientific operations, he said.

Spotting black holes

Another new instrument is giving insight into super-massive black holes, regions in space with such a strong gravitational pull that nothing -- not even light -- escapes.

A black hole

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS for short, found evidence of a black hole at least 300 million times the mass of Earth's Sun, in a galaxy called M84, 50 million light years away.

STIS looks at objects through a narrow slit that blocks out competing light and reveals a disk of gas orbiting the black hole.

It took the instrument only 20 minutes to do what used to take hours.

"STIS has made it look easy to do something that was previously ... possible but very taxing for Hubble to do, and that is to relatively routinely and easily detect a super-massive black hole in the nuclear of galaxies," Leckrone said.

STIS also provided a new way to analyze the rings of a giant supernova, or dying star, called 1987A, and to study its geometry.

NASA officials estimate Hubble, launched in 1990, has cost $3 billion between 1979-1997. "That works out to be about 2 cents per week per American," Weiler said.

Correspondent Ann Kellan and Reuters contributed to this report.


Special section:

Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Search for related CNN stories:
Tip: You can restrict your search to the title of a document. Infoseek grfk

Example: title:New Year's Resolutions


Watch these shows on CNN for more sci-tech stories:

CNN Computer Connection | Future Watch | Science & Technology Week

Message Boards

Sound off on our message boards

Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.