September 09, 2009, 8:56 AM — With the Hubble Space Telescope more powerful than ever and back to work after a spring upgrade, NASA today showed off images that the upgraded observatory took of far-flung galaxies, a star cluster and a butterfly nebula .
The bulk of space shuttle Atlantis ' 11-day mission in May focused not only on getting the 19-year-old Hubble back in working order but upgrading what has become one of the most important tools for the world's astronomers. During its nearly 20 years in orbit, Hubble's discoveries have caused academics to revise astronomy text books.
The Atlantis astronauts restored one broken-down wide-field imaging camera, while also installing a brand-new, more powerful one. It was the same case with Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph: An existing one was repaired and a new one was added. The spectrograph is NASA's major black-hole hunter .
Those fixes and should not only keep the space telescope running for another five to eight years, but also make the Hubble more powerful , giving it the ability to look out toward the edge of the observable universe, probing the early history of the cosmos.
This new power was put on display today with NASA's release of colorful , multi-wavelength pictures and spectroscopic observations that slice across billions of light-years.
"This marks a new beginning for Hubble," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "The telescope was given an extreme makeover and now is significantly more powerful than ever, well-equipped to last into the next decade."
According to NASA, the telescope's new instruments are more sensitive to light and can observe in ways that are significantly more efficient and require less observing time than previous generations of Hubble instruments.
Going forward, NASA noted that scientists hope Hubble will witness the birth of planets, create a portrait of the universe in near-infrared light and reveal infant galaxies.