By Colin Barras
Hubble has a problem. NASA says that one of the cameras on the almost 30-year-old space telescope – the Wide Field Camera 3 – is no longer operational because of a hardware problem.
Reports suggest that fixing the fault might be made more difficult by the ongoing US government shutdown, because some of the key governmental employees who will be needed to troubleshoot the problem are currently forbidden from working.
“WFC3 is the major imaging instrument on HST [Hubble Space Telescope]. It is, frankly, the best view of the heavens that humanity has,” Simon Porter, an astrophysicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, wrote on Twitter. “But apparently some bloody fence is more important.”
Although the Hubble Space Telescope has been observing the sky since 1990, the WFC3 was added just 10 years ago during a service mission. Over the last decade it has captured spectacular images, including a high-resolution version of the iconic ‘Pillars of Creation’ – a gas cloud inside the Eagle Nebula that was first imaged by Hubble back in 1995.
“WFC3 is one of the workhorse cameras on the observatory,” says Christine Pulliam, news chief at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. But she says there is another camera and two spectrographs on the Hubble Space Telescope too, and all of those instruments are still functioning.
“All space systems have finite life-times and such issues are bound to happen from time to time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate on Twitter.
This is when everyone gets a reminder about two crucial aspects of space exploration: 1) complex systems like @NASAHubble only work due to a dedicated team of amazing experts; 2) all space systems have finite life-times and such issues are bound to happen from time to time🤞 https://t.co/1Bd0NcmVVW
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) January 9, 2019
Hubble’s second camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, is also capable of generating impressive images. Earlier this week, for instance, researchers published an image with an astonishing 665 million pixels showing the Triangulum Galaxy. It was captured using the Advanced Camera for Surveys.
“Naturally, we’re eager to get WFC3 operational again, too, so that we have our full suite of instruments available,” says Pulliam. “We’re actively working the issue.”
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