New calibration by scientists expands Hubble’s capability

March 26th, 2009 - 2:28 pm ICT by ANI  

Hubble Space Telescope Washington, March 26 (ANI): A scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has expanded the Hubble Space Telescope’s capability by improving the calibration of its instruments.

Dan Batcheldor and his team improved the calibration of Hubble’s Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer to enable high-precision polarimetry.

Scientists like Batcheldor use this observational technique to read scattered light when investigating active galactic nuclei and for identifying proto-planets around very young stars.

“Polarimetry is really quite a powerful tool in astronomy because it can essentially see around corners by the way light is reflecting,” said Batcheldor, associate research scientist in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

“When you do polarimetry what you are essentially looking through is a set of polaroid sunglasses. What a polaroid does is it makes you see only light aligned in a certain way,” he added.

Scientists use polarimetry to see around clouds of dust and gas obscuring the centers of active galactic nuclei (where supermassive black holes live) and the potential planet-forming disks around young stars.

The scattering material acts like a mirror, allowing scientists to look into the center of these astronomical objects.

“Most of the light that comes from an object is unpolarized,” Batcheldor explained. “And you’ve got to filter out all that light just to see polarized light itself. And so now Hubble can do this even if only one percent of the light is polarized,” he added.

Scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute verified the calibration plan would work and gathered the observations over 12 months.

“We’ve been able to take an existing camera and carefully plan some observations, which have allowed us to enable a new type of science to be done without having to go up to the telescope to put a new instrument in,” Batcheldor said.

“So for a very small cost, we’ve been able to expand the science that the Hubble Space Telescope can do,” he added.

The improved polarimetric capability of Hubble is independent of the final servicing mission of the telescope scheduled to take place in May.

This effort will install two new cameras, fix two existing cameras and replace the gyroscopes that determine the orientation of the telescope. (ANI)

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