Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nebulas and Galaxies

We've been Hubble telescope fans for the entire 19 years of its existence. In May, it was spruced up with a new spectrograph and camera, and other scientific goodies.

My ego got a boost when the 117 screws for the spectrograph -- which had not been functional for years -- became a point of contention for astronauts -- and when they couldn't remove one of the larger bolts keeping the old hand rail in place. If only we could have seen Michael Massimino puzzling over some poorly translated and incomplete instructions! As it was, the spacewalkers ended up doing what we all do, and the stripped-out bolt was removed with brute force -- never mind the very costly and task-specific tool that they'd brought along. Further hilarity ensued when another of their very costly and task-specific tools had its battery die, also a dilemma well known by Earthlings attempting home improvements some beautiful Saturday morning, after mowing the lawn...

Anyway, the spectrograph, whose primary mission is the discovery of black holes, "acts like a prism to separate [ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared] light from the cosmos into its component colors. This provides a wavelength 'fingerprint' of the object being observed, which tells us about its temperature, chemical composition, density and motion. Spectrographic observations also reveal changes in celestial objects as the universe evolves."

Ten new deep space shots that were revealed yesterday testify to the success of May's mission. The revived spectrograph and new camera more than paid for themselves and their difficult resuscitation with images of a butterfly nebula (upper left) and an infant galaxy (bottom right), called a "pillar of creation" by NASA scientists.

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