Wide Field Camera 3, or WFC3, brought new depth and range to Hubble upon its installation in 2009 and is expected to become Hubble's new main instrument. WFC3's vision encompasses near-infrared light, visible light, and near-ultraviolet radiation. It will be the power behind studies of dark energy and dark matter, the formation of individual stars and the discovery of extremely remote galaxies previously beyond Hubble's vision.
WFC3 has the potential to be 35 times better than the infrared camera in the Advanced Camera for Surveys, and 15-20 times better than the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer. It has higher resolution — or ability to distinguish details — and a larger field of view — or area the camera is able to see — than the instrument it replaced, Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.
WFC3 has two "channels." Each channel detects and processes different wavelengths. The ultraviolet-visible channel can be used to study nearby galaxies and galaxies undergoing bursts of star formation. The near-infrared channel can be used to study the light from distant galaxies, which has been stretched by its travels through the expanding universe into infrared light. Because we see the most distant galaxies as they were in the early life of the universe, this gives us a glimpse of the history and evolution of the universe.
Paired with the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which sees best in visible light, Wide Field Camera 3 promises to bestow upon Hubble a view of the universe unprecedented in its completeness and clarity.
Wide Field Camera 3 was installed in May 2009 during Servicing Mission 4, taking the place of the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, which was Hubble's workhorse instrument for many of its early years. WFC3 was developed jointly by the Hubble program at Goddard Space Flight Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation.