The Legendary Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 – Part 2 of 2

The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) was Hubble Space Telescope “workhorse” instrument. It was originally installed in the first Hubble servicing mission in 1993 with a special optics to solve the spherical aberration in the telescope primary mirror. And because of this it was nicknamed “the camera that saved Hubble”.

Although WFPC2 had became Hubble’s most requested instrument, time has come for it to make way for an improved version camera – the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). During the first spacewalk of Hubble Servicing Mission 4 on 15 May 2009, astronaut Grunsfeld and Feustel removed the WFPC2 and installed the new WFC3. WFPC2 will return to Earth together with Atlantis and hopefully once of these days we will have the chance to see it sitting in a museum.

Planetary Nebula K4-55 by Hubble. Click to enlarge.

The Hubble community bids farewell to the soon-to-be decommissioned Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. In tribute to Hubble’s longest-running optical camera, planetary nebula K 4-55 has been imaged as WFPC2’s final “pretty picture”. Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team.

During the camera’s amazing years in space, it provided outstanding science and spectacular images of our universe. Before we say bye bye to WFPC2, let us look at its top five breakthroughs:

Hubble Deep Field. Click to enlarge.

(1) Deepest photograph of the universe. Hubble’s famous “Deep Field” picture left the world with its mouth agape when it was first revealed in 1996. In just a small patch of sky, more than 1,000 galaxies located billions of light-years away could be seen floating in space like sea creatures at the bottom of an endless ocean. Our world and our galaxy suddenly seemed very small.

(2) Observations of comet collision with Jupiter. WFPC2 gave the world a rare, stunning view of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 plunging into the gas giant Jupiter in 1994. The images revealed the event in great detail, including ripples expanding outward from the impact.

Jupiter Impact Sites from Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9. Click to enlarge.

(3) The birth and death of stars. WFPC2 brought the cosmos down to Earth with its exquisite pictures of stars in all stages of development. Its famed picture of the “Pillars of Creation” and other images of colorful dying stars offered the first, glorious views of a star’s life. The camera also took the first pictures of the dusty disks around stars where planets are born, demonstrating that planet-forming environments are common in the universe.

Eagle Nebula by Hubble. Click to enlarge.

Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16): Pillars of Creation in a Star-Forming Region. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University).

(4) The age and rate of expansion of our universe. Our universe formed from a colossal explosion known as the Big Bang, and has been stretching apart ever since. WFPC2 by observing stars that vary periodically in brightness, was able to calculate the pace of this expansion to an unprecedented degree of error of 10 percent. The camera also played a leading role in discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, driven by a mysterious force called “dark energy.” Together, these findings led to the calculation that our universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old.

Centre of Galaxy M87. Click to enlarge.

(5) Most galaxies harbor huge black holes. Before Hubble, astronomers suspected, but had no proof, that supermassive black holes lurk deep in the bellies of galaxies. WFPC2 together with spectroscopy data from Hubble, showed that most galaxies in the universe do indeed harbor monstrous black holes up to billions of times the mass of our sun.

<= Black Hole-Powered Jet of Electrons and Sub-Atomic Particles Streams From Center of Galaxy M87. Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team.

The scientific and inspirational legacy of the camera will be felt by astronomers and the public alike, for as long as the story of the Hubble Space Telescope is told.

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~ by thChieh on May 19, 2009.

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