HST SM4: Wide Field Camera 3 - Extending Hubble’s Vision, Packed with Power

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HST SM4: Wide Field Camera 3 - Extending Hubble’s Vision, Packed with Power
06.18.08
 
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John Grunsfeld
EVA Astronaut, HST SM4
The Wide Field Camera 3 is one of those instruments that is going to make Hubble ten times better in discovery space. It’s the highest science priority of the mission and we are very excited to put this new camera in.

Randy Kimble
Project Scientist, HST Development Project
We do have to take out an existing instrument that is still operational and that is the fabulous WFPC2. That has been the workhorse imager for HST for much of the HST lifetime, from it’s installation in the 1993 first servicing mission. It was the first camera that gave the in of images that HST was intended to provide. So, many of the iconic images like the Eagle Nebula, “Pillars of Creation” and so on, those are WFPC2 images.

Jackie Townsend
WFC3 Instrument Manager
Wide Field 3 is probably two generations improved over WFPC2. Wide Field is what they call a facility class instrument. What they did was assemble a team of scientists and they got together and said lets put together the best possible instrument that can give us the widest possible scientific use.

Ed Cheung
WFC3 Electrical Lead
The original design of wide field, the day one design was very similar to WFPC2 in the sense that we had a single camera. However, it was decided to add s second camera inside of Wide Field 3. We want, not just great UV visible performance, we want great infrared performance. And that caused us to take the initial design; which is essentially pretty full, five pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag, it all fit quite neatly. Now we had to add a second five pounds of sugar into this bag.

Jackie Townsend
WFC3 Instrument Manager
There is so much stuff in that all of our electronic boxes have to hang on the outside. It looks a little like Fibber McGee’s Closet, with harnessing and all of these wires, and cables and everything’s connected all funky. And it’s just because they are trying to do so much with this facility class instrument, it’s the last imaging instrument that’s going to be put on the telescope we want it to provide spectacular imagery.

Randy Kimble
Project Scientist, HST Development Project
The most novel technology however was the infrared arrays. The infrared is particularly good at look at the very distant universe. And when you look at thins at a great distance in astronomy you’re also looking far back in the past. So, closer to the beginning of the universe, closer to the Big Bang, earlier in the lifetimes of galaxies and so on.

David Leckrone
HST Chief Scientist
Because Wide Field Camera 3 has this wide, panchromatic color coverage, we can progress from ultra violet to visible, and then progress onward beyond that to the red and near infrared. And as we do that, we’re progressing from hot, young stars to middle-aged stars, to older stars within the same galaxy. And all those different populations of stars exist within the same galaxy. It’s the family album, the family photo album for that galaxy.

Randy Kimble
Project Scientist, HST Development Project
The other thing is to probe this very mysterious phenomenon that’s called Dark Energy. Which is the catch phrase for force that is not understood in terms of the physics, a force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe.

Jackie Townsend
WFC3 Instrument Manager
What’s been so amazing about each of these cameras over the history of the Hubble program is what it finds is something we never knew. We point it, we learn a little bit and somebody goes… huh, I wonder… and off they go and then the world is changed forever based on something we could not have imagined while we were down on the ground working on it.

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