Hubble Instrument Celebrates 20 Years of Service

The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instrument celebrates twenty years of operation onboard the Hubble Space Telescope, imaging galaxies, planets, and gravitational lenses.

Beth Johnson

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IMAGE: This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004. CREDIT: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

Just because you have a few decades on you, doesn’t mean you aren’t still useful. Take the Hubble Space Telescope. This amazing space telescope has been going strong for the better part of thirty years, one flawed mirror aside. It’s a Millennial telescope, in fact, and I’m sure that we could make some astute comparisons here, but let’s move on to the real reason we’re talking about this workhorse.

While Hubble is just over thirty, not every instrument has been on the telescope for that long. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) was installed on March 7, 2002, by astronauts on Hubble Servicing Mission 3B or STS-109. Which makes the ACS twenty years old this week, so happy birthday! Astronaut Mike Massimino was one of the astronauts that helped install the instrument during a spacewalk, and he notes: We knew the ACS would add so much discovery potential to the telescope, but I don’t think anybody really understood everything it could do. It was going to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

The ACS can take images from the ultraviolet, through the visible, and even into the near-infrared. It has three sub-instruments: the Wide Field Channel, the High-Resolution Channel, and the Solar Blind Channel. Each of these is designed to look at different objects, from galaxies and galaxy clusters to weather patterns on Jupiter. And that’s just what the ACS has done for two decades.

One of the more famous images, which we’ll include in our show notes, is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, released in 2004, that combined the work of the ACS with the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer or NICMOS and ended up finding galaxies that existed 13 billion years ago. It was a million-second-long exposure that followed up the original Hubble Deep Field images released in 1995.

IMAGE: This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. NASA’s New Horizons space probe, now halfway to Pluto, will get sharper images of Pluto when it is six months away from a close flyby in 2015. CREDIT: NASA, ESA and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute)

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Beth Johnson

Planetary scientist, podcast host. Communication specialist for SETI Institute and Planetary Science Institute. Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/planetarypan