Far UV detector is part of new instrument to be installed on Hubble

May 07, 2009
This is a photo of the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

NASA's final mission to the 17-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, which begins May 11, will deliver a new instrument partly built by University of California, Berkeley, physicists to map the structure of the universe.

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) contains both a far ultraviolet detector built at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory and a near ultraviolet detector provided by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo. The spectrograph package was designed, assembled and readied for the Hubble by scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder, under the leadership of the principal investigator James Green, professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences and a former UC Berkeley graduate student.

COS is designed to explore the "cosmic web," a rarefied network of hot and ionized gas lanes connecting and dating from the early , according to Barry Welsh, a UC Berkeley astronomer who will be working with the new data from COS. By studying this web of hot gas, astronomers hope to detail the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe seen today as walls and sheets of galaxies surrounding huge voids.

"The main goal of COS is to look as far and as faint as possible to study the cosmic web of primordial gas to understand how galaxies formed," Welsh said.

With COS, astronomers also will look for chemicals and hot winds in the haloes of distant galaxies. This information can provide important insight into how early galaxies grew and how rapidly galaxies accumulated heavy elements from exploding stars. Other astronomers, like Welsh, hope to use COS to explore the origin of stellar and planetary systems and the cold interstellar medium.

The Space Sciences Laboratory was subcontracted to build the far UV detector in 1998, with research physicist Oswald H.W. Siegmund as lead scientist. The detector was completed in 2002 and, except for a brief upgrade in 2003, has remained in a vacuum chamber at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland awaiting its launch into space from Cape Kennedy on the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

"The far UV detector is similar to what we built for NASA's FUSE mission, but with better resolution and much better sensitivity," said Siegmund, referring to NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer satellite, which was launched in 1999 to study the universe in the far UV waveband. That mission, operated by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, ended in 2007.

During the upcoming 11-day servicing mission, astronauts will deliver a second new instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3, and attempt to repair the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has provided scientists and the public with beautiful images of galaxies in the early universe. STIS had ultraviolet capabilities complementary to the COS and was used in conjunction with FUSE when both were operational. The STIS spectrograph failed due to an electronic short in August 2004.

Source: University of California - Berkeley

Explore further: How baryon acoustic oscillation reveals the expansion of the universe

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spectrograph Team Awaits October Hubble Servicing Mission

Aug 22, 2008

A $70 million instrument designed by the University of Colorado at Boulder that will be inserted on the Hubble Space Telescope during an October 2008 servicing mission should help astronomers better understand how galaxies, ...

NASA Concludes Successful Fuse Mission

Oct 17, 2007

After an eight-year run that gave astronomers a completely new perspective on the universe, NASA has concluded the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer mission. The satellite, known as FUSE, became inoperable in July when ...

Recommended for you

The Great Cold Spot in the cosmic microwave background

Sep 19, 2014

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is the thermal afterglow of the primordial fireball we call the big bang. One of the striking features of the CMB is how remarkably uniform it is. Still, there are some ...

Mystery of rare five-hour space explosion explained

Sep 17, 2014

Next week in St. Petersburg, Russia, scientists on an international team that includes Penn State University astronomers will present a paper that provides a simple explanation for mysterious ultra-long gamma-ray ...

User comments : 0