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UA Astronomers Laud NASA Decision to Repair and Upgrade Hubble

Press Release From: University of Arizona
Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

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University of Arizona Steward Observatory astronomers are delighted with the decision. Those available today to talk about it include:

• Professor Rodger I. Thompson, principal investigator for the infrared instrument (NICMOS) on the Hubble Space Telescope, 621-6527, rthompson@as.arizona.edu

NICMOS, which space shuttle astronauts installed in the telescope in 1997, was the first large-array infrared detector camera in space. After it ran out of coolant in 1999, astronauts installed a new cooler in 2002, renewing NICMOS. It revolutionized astronomy with scientific advances in areas from planet formation to cosmology, astronomers say. And it played a powerful role in the development of ground-based infrared telescopes, as well as the Next Generation Space Telescope (James Webb Telescope), they add. The 2008 servicing mission will not change anything on NICMOS -- which is running superbly, by the way -- although astronauts will have to turn off the power to the cooler during the estimated 10-day servicing mission, Thompson said. "It's happened before, and we recovered," Thompson said.

• Professor Chris Impey, director of the UA astronomy graduate program, 621-6522, impey@as.arizona.edu

How important is the Hubble to UA astronomy? "In a given year, we have 20 to 25 individual research projects on HST, which is a significant fraction of our funding," Impey said. "I have a particular interest because one of my main projects that has had several awards is based on doing ultraviolet spectroscopy. That project ended when STISS (Hubble's uv instrument) died. The servicing mission will not only replace that capability -- the new uv instrument will do what STISS did 10 to 20 times better," Impey said. "Hubble will have new capabilities. It will be better than ever." Another relevant point, Impey said: "This changes the whole tenor of how people apply for and get telescope time." Knowing that Hubble will be repaired and improved will encourage astronomers to plan important, longer-term science projects with the Hubble.

• Glenn Schneider, associate astronomer and NICMOS project instrument scientist, 621-5865, gschneider@as.arizona.edu

Schneider uses NICMOS to hunt for planets and "brown dwarfs" - things larger than planets but too small to be stars. "NICMOS turned on in orbit almost 10 years ago (in February 1997). We had an almost 3-year hiatus in taking data because the cryogen ran out in 1999-2002. But we've been up now for 9 and 1/2 years -- when our original goal was to operate for 5 years. The good news is that we see no evidence of degradation in the instrument at all. HST from day one was designed for on-orbit repair and upgrade. As long as there's a demonstrated need and money to do it, there's no reason not to do it."

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