Ultraviolet instrument will give scientists insight into early star formations
On Monday, NASA announced it would send another mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in late 2008.
The last mission was canceled after the Columbia Space Shuttle was destroyed mid-flight. NASA approved the multi-million dollar mission to send a shuttle up to the telescope in order to give it another few years of life. As an added bonus, NASA will be sending up a new instrument built by scientists at CU.
“The instrument that will be put on the Hubble Space Telescope was designed and built here by Ball Aerospace and CU scientists,” said Douglas Duncan, a professor of astronomical and planetary sciences at CU and director of the Astronomical Laboratories. “It has been sitting in a dust-free closet for a couple of years and is ready to go on.”
Duncan, who has been with the Hubble since it launched 20 years ago, is very excited about the new mission.
Duncan said he was on the staff of the Hubble mission when it was first launched and has worked closely with the telescope ever since. At the beginning there were 19 scientists from CU who particpated in the Hubble Project, and their names and pictures are hanging up in Fiske Planetarium.
“There is a competition among scientists all around the world for the next instrument design, and NASA picks the best,” Duncan said. “CU won this time.”
The instrument, which will operate in the ultraviolet light range, will see some of the oldest and earliest star formations. Scientists are hoping to examine what the universe looked like in its origins and will hopefully deduce some interesting information.
Duncan said he is confident that the Hubble, which “is already well past its warranty,” will last for another five years.
The Hubble was only designed to stay in space for a few years, and has outlived the predictions most scientists had about how long the telescope would operate. The Hubble was on its last legs until this mission was approved by NASA.
As for the future of telescopes at CU, Duncan said he is confident CU will win the next NASA competition.
“CU became prominent in astronomy by launching small rockets and small telescopes,” he said. “They build the telescopes on East Campus at LASP. There are even some students who build ’em. CU is one of the leaders in astronomy and telescope equipment and will continue to be.”