NICMOS - Dust Buster



Ball Aerospace NICMOS page



NICMOS sees through Orion's dust
Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer
Keeping Cool While Seeing Red

What Light does NICMOS see?


Nebula burnout
NGC 7027

Faraway galaxies
Faraway Galaxies

Objects obscured by gas and dust
Egg Nebula

forming stars
30 Doradus Nebula

Uranus with actual tilt of rings


As Hubble's "heat sensor," the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) can see objects in deepest space — objects whose light takes billions of years to reach us here on Earth. NICMOS allows astronomers to use Hubble's exquisite detail to open an important window of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Making the Invisible Visible

The instrument's three "cameras" — each with different fields of view — are specially designed to see objects in the near-infrared wavelengths, which are slightly longer than the wavelengths of visible light (human eyes cannot see infrared light).

Many secrets about the birth of stars, solar systems, and galaxies are revealed in infrared light, which can penetrate the interstellar gas and dust that block visible light. In addition, light from the most distant objects in the universe "shifts" into the infrared wavelengths. By studying objects and phenomena in this spectral region, astronomers probe our universe's past, present, and future, learn how galaxies, stars, and planetary systems form, and reveal a great deal about our universe's basic nature.


NICMOS's thermos

NICMOS's infrared detectors sit inside this chilled "thermos"

A Cool Customer

As a camera for recording visible light must be dark inside to avoid exposure to unwanted light, a camera for recording infrared light must be cold inside to avoid exposure to unwanted light in the form of heat. To make sure that NICMOS is recording infrared light from space (as opposed to heat created by its own electronics), the sensitive infrared detectors in NICMOS must operate at very cold temperatures — below –321 degrees Fahrenheit, or 77 degrees Kelvin.

The instrument's detectors used to be cooled inside a cryogenic dewar (a thermally insulated container much like a thermos bottle). When NICMOS was installed in 1997, the dewar contained a 230-pound block of nitrogen ice. The dewar, which successfully cooled the detectors for about two years, ran out of coolant prematurely. NICMOS was rechilled during Servicing Mission 3B with a "cryocooler," a machine that operates much like a household refrigerator.

NICMOS, which was built by Ball Aerospace, was installed in the Hubble Space Telescope during the 1997 Second Servicing Mission.

Cool Views from NICMOS

• Faraway galaxies
• Objects obscured by dust and gas
• Newly forming stars and clusters
• Planetary atmospheric changes over time