If you're gonna go out, why not go out looking good? That seems to be the motto of NASA's Hubble Space telescope.
New Hubble photos released today by NASA are impressive. Really impressive. And proof that government spending might actually be worthwhile occasionally.
Just like aging celebrities who spend stratospheric sums of money to overhaul their appearance, NASA invested nearly a billion dollars to give this observatory some extra life. But unlike many of the Hollywood disasters, this makeover appears to be paying off. Check out these photos.
Last May, NASA commissioned a team of scientists to perform some celestial nip and tuck procedures on the 19-year old telescope. The 13-day mission resulted in the repair of older equipment and the installation of some new instruments like something called a Wide Field Camera 3. This super-camera (or spectograph) is responsible for the spectacular images released today by the space agency.
Wanna see immediate proof? Just look at the photos on top of the page. Just like you might see on a Weight Watchers ad, it's the same image but in a "before and after" setting.
The photo on the left is of the Omega Centauri starfield from 2002, while the one on the right is of that same starfield taken after the telescope was overhauled.
"Wow!" an excited Plait writes. "The image shows a portion of the globular cluster Omega Centauri, a giant ball of millions of stars that orbits the Milky Way. This image alone shows about 100,000 stars at all stages of evolution, from slowly glowing yellow to furiously churning red — stars at the ends of their lives, about to fizzle out into tiny, hot white dwarfs — and finally sapphire blue stars, helium-rich objects also nearing cosmic senescence."
Yeah, that's what we thought it was too. Well, we knew it was shiny stuff in outer space, anyway. But that's the cool thing about what NASA's doing -- you don't have to be an astronomer to enjoy it. We all can marvel at the new pictures. And probably have some of the same reactions too.
Take John Grunfeld, for example. He was the lead spacewalker during the mission last May. At a press conference earlier today, Grunfeld sounded like an excited kid when talking about the new photos.
"When I saw the pictures the first time ... I was just wow," he said. "And it was the kind of wow [where] the hair was standing up on the back of my neck."
Keep on (space) truckin'
Although the new round (and final round) of repairs are expected to keep Hubble functional through at least 2014, there's plenty of time until then to get maximum usage out of the refurbished observatory.
"You're only getting the tiniest taste of what the astronomers are planning to do with Hubble over as many years as it can last," said Heidi Hammel, senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., in an interview with CNET.
Want to see some more images? Click here to see a photo gallery.