Hubble Instrument Celebrates 20 Years of Service

Mar 10, 2022 | Daily Space, Galaxies, NASA, Pluto & Charon, Space History, Spacecraft

Hubble Instrument Celebrates 20 Years of Service
IMAGE: This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004. CREDIT: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

Just because you have a few decades on you, doesn’t mean you aren’t still useful. Take the Hubble Space Telescope. This amazing space telescope has been going strong for the better part of thirty years, one flawed mirror aside. It’s a Millennial telescope, in fact, and I’m sure that we could make some astute comparisons here, but let’s move on to the real reason we’re talking about this workhorse.

While Hubble is just over thirty, not every instrument has been on the telescope for that long. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) was installed on March 7, 2002, by astronauts on Hubble Servicing Mission 3B or STS-109. Which makes the ACS twenty years old this week, so happy birthday! Astronaut Mike Massimino was one of the astronauts that helped install the instrument during a spacewalk, and he notes: We knew the ACS would add so much discovery potential to the telescope, but I don’t think anybody really understood everything it could do. It was going to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

The ACS can take images from the ultraviolet, through the visible, and even into the near-infrared. It has three sub-instruments: the Wide Field Channel, the High-Resolution Channel, and the Solar Blind Channel. Each of these is designed to look at different objects, from galaxies and galaxy clusters to weather patterns on Jupiter. And that’s just what the ACS has done for two decades.

One of the more famous images, which we’ll include in our show notes, is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, released in 2004, that combined the work of the ACS with the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer or NICMOS and ended up finding galaxies that existed 13 billion years ago. It was a million-second-long exposure that followed up the original Hubble Deep Field images released in 1995.

The ACS was also an important part of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, taking some of the most detailed images in advance of the flyby and helping determine which hemisphere looked best for close-up pictures.

And then there is the gravitational lensing usage, which revealed even more distant galaxies. Per the press release: In 2002, the ACS delivered an unprecedented and dramatic new view of the cosmos when it demonstrated the power of gravitational lensing. The ACS peered straight through the center of one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, Abell 1689. The gravity of the cluster’s trillion stars — plus dark matter — acts as a lens in space two million light-years wide. This gravitational lens bends and magnifies the light of galaxies located far behind it, distorting their shapes and creating multiple images of individual galaxies.

We could go on and on about the amazing discoveries of the ACS, with its ability to peer back to the early universe, just 435 million years after the Big Bang, but that would take up the entire show. Instead, we’ll close this story with a quote from NASA’s Hubble Senior Project Scientist, Jennifer Wiseman, who said: The Advanced Camera for Surveys has opened our eyes to a deep and active universe for two decades. We are anticipating still more discoveries with this camera, in conjunction with Hubble’s other science instruments, for many years to come.

The Hubble Space Telescope is expected and capable of continuing for another decade if not two, and we look forward to sharing what discoveries it and its various instruments continue to make.

More Information

ESA press release

Hubblesite press release

NASA press release


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