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Hubble Facts the Hubble Space Telescope Second Servicing Mission (SM-2) Science Objectives

Hubble Facts the Hubble Space Telescope Second Servicing Mission (SM-2) Science Objectives

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Apr 11, 2011
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NationalAeronautics andSpaceAdministration
The Hubble Space Telescope Second Servicing Mission (SM-2)
Flying high above Earth’s atmosphere, the HubbleSpace Telescope offers astronomers an unobstructed viewof the heavens. When astronauts install two state-of-the-art science instruments during the next servicing mis-sion in 1997, that view will be grander for scientists in-terested in studying the world through a more versatileand technologically advanced set of eyeglasses.The instruments—the Near Infrared Camera andMulti-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and the SpaceTelescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS)—feature tech-nology that wasn’t available when scientists designedand built the original Hubble instruments in the late1970s. They will replace the Goddard High ResolutionSpectrograph (GHRS) and the Faint Object Spectrograph(FOS).With the new instruments, astronomers will be ableto image and take spectroscopic measurements of ob-jects that emit near infrared and ultraviolet (UV) radia-tion, expanding the telescope’s ability to see differentforms of light.
Why the Need for Expanded Views
The ability to detect different colors of light is im-portant. Ultraviolet and visible or optical light—whichcurrent Hubble instruments primarily see—are types of electromagnetic radiation which occupy a narrow bandof a very wide spectrum. Equipped with instruments thatdiscern other wavelengths, the telescope will give as-tronomers distinctly different windows into the cosmos.Consequently, astronomers worldwide will get amore complete picture of supermassive black holes,brown dwarfs, star-forming regions, flare stars, ancientclusters of galaxies so far back in space and time thatthey appear as they did when the universe was veryyoung, and possibly planetary systems around newlyformed stars—all in an effort to better understand theorigin, nature and evolution of our universe.This understanding will be made possible by thedifferent types of science astronomers will perform—spectroscopy and imaging.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but the lightthat formed the picture also has its own story to tell. Spec-troscopy—a technique that separates light or radiationinto its component colors or wavelengths—allows sci-entists to interpret the story.Anyone can separate light by passing it through aslit and then through a glass prism; which creates a rain-bow effect. The same principle is at work when a rain-bow appears in the sky, revealing the component colorsof sunlight spread out by water droplets in a cloud.If a gas or some other component that strongly ab-sorbs light is placed in front of the light path, the rain-bow pattern is interrupted by a set of dark lines charac-teristic of the gas.
Extended Wavelength Range 
Currentwith NICMOSUltraviolet Infrared
Objectives 2/5/97, 7:19 PM1
fill in both vertical and horizontal dimensions byrepointing the camera and taking many exposures.Astronomers have similar problems in using thecurrent Hubble spectrographs. Their light sensorsconsist of 500 individual “photocells” arranged in astraight line. The colors of the spectrum are spread outover this one dimension. At any one time, the spectro-graphs can only measure a small segment of thespectrum of a single point in the sky - a single star or asmall portion of a planet or a galaxy. To build up acomplete spectrum of a star, the internal optics of thespectrograph have to be repointed and multiple expo-sures taken. To measure the spectra of many pointsacross the center of a galaxy, for example, the entireHST has to be repointed many times and multiple longexposures taken - a very inefficient process.With the STIS’s two-dimensional light sensors,astronomers will be able, at any one time, to measure asegment of the spectrum of a star which is about 30times wider than with the present spectrographs -eliminating the need for 30 separate exposures. Whenstudying the chemical composition and physicalconditions in a star, astronomers take a spectrum andthen identify and measure various dark absorption linesor bright emission lines in the spectrum. With themuch wider piece of the spectrum obtained with STIS,they will be able to detect many more spectral lines ina single observation.Also, the STIS can, at one moment, measure up to500 separate points in space, along a slit placed acrossan extended object such as a planet or a galaxy,eliminating the need to repoint the HST 500 separatetimes and to make 500 separate measurements. ThisAlso, tenuous hot clouds of gas in space emit dis-tinctive patterns of bright lines. In both cases, these brightor dark spectral lines are like signatures or fingerprints:They reveal the chemical identity of the source creatingthe tell-tale lines.To perform spectroscopy, scientists build scientificinstruments called spectrographs or spectrometers, whichspread out the light gathered by a telescope so that sci-entists can study the resulting spectral lines. Both STISand NICMOS will do just that.
STIS separates ultraviolet and optical light into itscomponent colors, thereby giving scientists critical di-agnostic information about an object’s composition, tem-perature, motion and other chemical and physical prop-erties. It will perform the work now done by GHRS andFOS, but more efficiently and with better sensitivity. Inaddition, STIS can image objects in space.
Current Instrument—makes an observation, then changesfilters, makes another observationand so on.The new instrument is configured like a camera—with one spectrum stacked on top another. Placing the spectra end-to-end reveals how much more data the instrument gets in a single observation.
The instrument, developed by a team led by Dr.Bruce Woodgate at the Goddard Space Flight Center’sLaboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics, employstwo-dimensional detectors instead of one-dimensionaldetectors used on existing Hubble spectrographs. Tounderstand the advantages of the newer two-dimen-sional technology, consider a camera. When you take aphotograph, the resulting snapshot shows both verticaland horizontal dimensions. In other words you get acomplete picture of the object you photographed. If cameras only took one-dimensional views, yourphotographs would be dramatically incomplete. Youwould see only one strip of the object you photo-graphed. To get a complete picture you would have totake multiple exposures, each with the camera pointingin a slightly different direction - a very inefficientprocess. If your camera could only photograph onesmall point of the scene at a time, you would have to
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Some of the greatest advantages to using STIS arein the study of supermassive black holes, cosmology, solarflares and the distribution of matter in the universe.
Massive Black Holes
. These exotic objects are somassive, and their gravitational forces so strong, thatnothing—not even light—can escape. To verify whetheran object truly classifies as a massive black hole, astrono-mers need to determine how quickly stars and other de-bris orbit around the center of these objects. These mea-surements, which need to be taken at 10 different adja-
Stellar Flares
. Flares are powerful explosions onthe surfaces of many stars. When our own Sun flares,the episodes frequently disrupt communications, createpower line surges and threaten space travelers. Astrono-mers don’t understand the physics behind such violenteruptions, but by studying the events on other stars, theywill begin to unlock some of their physical secrets.
Evolution of the universe.
By taking spectralmeasurements of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and ordi-nary hydrogen in intergalactic clouds of gas, astrono-mers will be able to
determine how the ratio of abun-dances of deuterium to ordinary hydrogen has changedfrom the time of the big bang to the present. This in-formation indicates how much mass the universe con-tains. Knowing the mass of the universe will help as-tronomers determine whether the universe will continueto expand forever or will ultimately stop expanding andbegin to collapse.
Distribution of Matter.
Emitting the energy of more than a trillion Suns, quasars can be used to probethe universe. As their light streams toward Earth, the ra-diation encounters intergalactic clouds and other matter.These encounters show up in the spectral lines, givingastronomers an idea of what exists in the vast expense of space separating us from the very distant quasar.
NICMOS and the Infrared
NICMOS, developed by University of Arizona Pro-fessor Rodger Thompson and a 16-member science team,will see the universe at near infrared wavelengths moresensitively and in sharper detail than any other existingor planned telescope. It, too, takes “photographs” andspectroscopic measurements.Infrared light, which falls between visible and ra-dio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, isn’t ab-sorbed like visual light by the clouds of dust found abun-dantly in the universe. Although infrared radiation can
Supermassive Black Holes and Other Space Exotica
cent locations within a relatively small area, help deter-mine how much mass is concentrated in the center. If there is more mass than can be accounted for by starsalone, the mass must be locked away in something verycompact—a black hole. Given STIS’s dramatically en-hanced data-gathering capabilities, scientists will be ablenot only to locate supermassive black holes, but begin todiscern differences in their characteristics.
Black hole detection took multiple observations withcurrent instrument.New instrument can samplethe area suspected of harboring a black hole in asingle observation
will allow astronomers to measure very efficiently howrapidly stars and gas are moving around the center of agalaxy, making STIS the world’s most powerful black-hole hunter.STIS affords astronomers the opportunity to gathermore data in less time. It will enable many newscientific discoveries that were hopeless to pursuebecause the process was so time consuming.
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