Speaking of Hubble...

Archive: September 2010

Hot Summer, Hot Science (Part II)

September 1, 2010 by Rachel Osten
This cross-section of Hubble shows the instrument bays highlighted in yellow and red. (Credit: ESA)

This cross-section of Hubble shows the instrument bays highlighted in yellow and red. (Credit: ESA)

Observing with Hubble is a little different from observing at a ground-based telescope. The commands that tell Hubble where to point and which instruments to use are generated weeks before the actual observations, then “uploaded” to the spacecraft’s onboard computers to execute.  The sequences of observations have to be presented in advance, so they can be checked by scientists here at the institute.  I am one of those scientists.

The Hubble Space Telescope has very sensitive instruments, and this review is very important, because a few of those instruments can be damaged if too much light falls on them.  I am responsible for ensuring the safety of the observations.  This can often mean telling astronomers that an observational setup must be changed, or a different target must be selected, to protect the instruments.

This process, which can be tedious at times, is necessary so the instruments stay healthy and capable of obtaining even more ground-breaking results. It also gives us a glimpse into the kinds of science that Hubble will be doing in the coming year – hot science results to warm those cold winter months just around the corner.  And based on the recent weather trends, those winter temperatures can’t come soon enough!