NASA has released its first images from the newly-serviced Hubble Space Telescope, and jolly impressive they are too.
The new pictures include colourful multi-wavelength pictures of distant galaxies, a densely packed star cluster and a butterfly-shaped nebula.
Hubble’s new instruments are more sensitive to light, and cover the spectrum from ultraviolet right through to near infra-red. “The telescope was given an extreme makeover and is now significantly more powerful than ever — well equipped to last well into the next decade,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
A dramatic golden explosion shows a star bursting to life in the Carina nebula, while a dying star releases superheated gas in a butterfly-like formation.
A densely packed star cluster inside Omega Centauri is one of the first images taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).
Galactic wreckage can be seen in Stephan’s Quintet, also known as Hickson Compact Group 92.
For the last three months, scientists and engineers at the Sapce Telescope Sci Institute (STScI) and the Goddard Space Flight Center have been focusing, testing and calibrating the instruments. Hubble now enters a phase of full science observations.
There’s a lot of work to get through. On the to-do list are studying the population of Kuiper Belt objects at the fringe of our solar system, observing the birth of planets around other stars and probing the composition and structure of extrasolar planetary atmospheres.
There are also ambitious plans to take the deepest-ever near-infrared portrait of the universe to reveal for the first time infant galaxies that existed when the universe was less than 500 million years old.
Other planned observations will attempt to shed light on the behaviour of dark energy, a repulsive force that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.