Speaking of Hubble...

Archive: June 2009

On Science and Art

June 24, 2009 by Mario Livio

On Science and ArtLast week I was invited to give a talk in New York, as part of a series called “Geeking Out,” intended for a lay audience interested in science.

Somewhat to my surprise, the talk took place in an art gallery in
Brooklyn. Talks about science in an art gallery? Were we not told by popular psychologists that the artistic types rely more on the right side of the brain, while the mathematical geeks rely more on the left side?

Actually, serious neuroscience research shows this characterization to be way too simplistic — we all use both hemispheres of our brain. And the New York audience, who paid great attention to both the talks and the art on the walls, proved this to be absolutely true.

At some level, scientists and artists have a lot in common. They both use creativity to express the interaction between human perception and the universe. The scientists try to explain what they perceive, the artists attempt to convey it in a different form. Images taken by Hubble have blurred the distinction between science and art even further.

People react to Hubble images, which were taken for scientific purposes, with the same admiration usually reserved for artistic masterpieces. Indeed, Hubble images have been displayed in a major art museum, and one British journalist described Hubble images as “possibly the greatest art works of our time.” Science and art can, and perhaps even should, go hand in hand.

Coffee + Donuts + Morning Meetings = Checking out Hubble

June 17, 2009 by Rachel Osten

blog_06_17_09It’s been a couple of weeks since the astronauts safely landed after their repair mission to Hubble, and the public’s attention has turned to the current news of the day. But for a large number of people, the servicing mission is not done. In fact, it won’t really be over until the end of the summer.

We want to make sure that the instruments are working at their peak conditions before that point, so we are sure that the best science that can be done with Hubble is being done. The instruments on Hubble are complex and require careful check-out before they can be used for routine science operations. At times, the slow pace can be frustrating. It’s a series of baby steps, and after each step conditions are evaluated before going on to the next one. But this is all designed to catch anything out of the ordinary before it could become a problem that gets out of control.

Activities occur 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hubble doesn’t know about evenings and weekends, and so, during this phase, neither do the scientists and engineers working on the check-out activities.

One main feature of the summer activities is a daily morning meeting, where people working on all aspects of the telescope gather to give updates on the status of their piece of the Hubble pie — ranging from the power supply to the instruments, from scheduling to data archiving.

The meeting is early in the morning (for astronomer-types used to staying up late!) and is composed of NASA scientists and engineers  who can meet on-site, along with scientists on instrument teams phoning in from other places. Several of the instruments have had their first light from space, but don’t expect to see these on the Web anytime soon; they are only the first of many exposures of cosmic sources designed to test the inner workings of the instruments.

The acronyms fly fast and furious to describe the details of each instrument — the meeting would probably be twice as long if everything were spelled out! It’s a stretch to connect the flow charts and diagrams with the up-close images of Hubble taken when the astronauts had their hands on the telescope, but it is all the same telescope.

Hubble will soon be producing its amazing data better than ever, thanks to the efforts of everyone over this summer.