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News Release 8 of 11

June 5, 2002 12:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2002-13

Hubble's Infrared Camera is Back in Business — New Images Released

An Early Release Observation Release

June 5, 2002: After more than three years of inactivity, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) has reopened its “near-infrared eyes” on the universe, snapping several breathtaking views, from the craggy interior of a star-forming cloud to a revealing look at the heart of an edge-on galaxy. Peering into our stellar backyard, NICMOS peeled back the outer layers of the Cone Nebula [above, left] to see the underlying dusty "bedrock" in this stellar "pillar of creation." The camera’s penetrating vision also sliced through the edge-on dusty disk of a galaxy, NGC 4013 [above, center], like our Milky Way to peer all the way into the galaxy's core. Astronomers were surprised to see what appears to be an edge-on ring of stars, 720 light-years across, encircling the nucleus. Though such star-rings are not uncommon in barred spiral galaxies, only NICMOS has the resolution to see the ring buried deep inside an edge-on galaxy. The camera then peered far across the universe to witness a galactic car wreck between four galaxies, which is creating a torrent of new stars. The colliding system of galaxies, called IRAS 19297-0406 [above, right], glows fiercely in infrared light because the flocks of new stars are generating a large amount of dust.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. Why was NICMOS dormant for three years?

  2. The camera's infrared detectors must operate at a very cold temperature, minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 213 degrees Celsius). To keep the detectors cold, NICMOS was encased in a thermos-like container filled with solid nitrogen ice. The ice evaporated about twice as fast as scientists had planned, and in 1999, with its supply of ice exhausted, NICMOS became dormant.

  3. 2. How did scientists revive NICMOS?

  4. Scientists designed a mechanical cooler that operates on principles similar to a modern home refrigerator. Astronauts installed the cooler on NICMOS in March 2002 during Servicing Mission 3B. The cooler pumps ultra-cold neon gas through the internal plumbing of the instrument to keep NICMOS cold.

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Credit: NASA, The NICMOS Group (STScI, ESA) and The NICMOS Science Team (Univ. of Arizona)