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SLAC Researchers Respond to Loss of Hubble Camera

The Hubble Space Telescope is responsible for some of the most breathtaking astronomical images ever taken. Perhaps the most famous is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a snapshot of primordial galaxies at the dawn of the universe. But the camera that took those pictures, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), has now been rendered useless by a short-circuit, causing major problems for astronomers who depend on the ACS for their research.

"It's a big loss for the astronomical community," said Marusa Bradac, an astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC). "Everything I've done in the last two to three years has been done with that camera, including the Bullet cluster images."

The electrical problems struck on Saturday, January 27, coming at an unfortunate time for researchers. Proposals to use the ACS were due the Friday just before the camera shut down. Astronomers like Bradac are now scrambling to rewrite their proposals, adapting them to a secondary camera, the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

The Hubble is scheduled for a servicing mission next year, when astronauts will install the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The WFC3 will have the same capabilities as the ACS, but will also be able to observe in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.

Until the WFC3 is installed, astronomers will have to be content with the WFPC2, which has lower sensitivity, lower resolution, and a smaller field of view than the ACS. Nevertheless, astronomers can still use the WFPC2, said Bradac, who had hoped to use the ACS to observe galaxy clusters.

óMarcus Woo, February 7, 2007

Above image: The Hubble Telescope. Image courtesy of NASA.