This afternoon I gave three hours of lectures on the trot, so I’m now feeling more than a little knackered. Before I head home for an early night, though, I thought I’d share this amazing video produced by the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Survey (or PHAT, for short), which is a Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Multi-cycle program to map roughly a third of the star-forming disk of the Andromeda Nebula (M31), using 6 filters covering from the ultraviolet through the near infrared. With HST’s resolution and sensitivity, the disk of M31 is resolved into more than 100 million stars. The combination of scale and detail is simply jaw-dropping. Hat’s off to the PHAT team!Follow @telescoper
Archive for HST
News emerged last night that the US Government may be about to cancel the James Webb Space Telescope, which is intended to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. I’m slow out of the blocks on this one, as I had an early night last night, but there’s already extensive reaction to the JWST crisis around the blogosphere: see, for example, Andy Lawrence, Sarah Kendrew, and Amanda Bauer; I’m sure there are many more articles elsewhere.
The US House Appropriations Committee has released its Science Appropriations Bill for the Fiscal Year 2012, which will be voted on tomorrow. Among other announcements (of big cuts to NASA’s budget) listed in the accompanying press release we find
The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.
It is undoubtedly the case that JWST is way over budget and very late. Initial estimates put the cost of the at $1.6 billion and that it would be launched this year (2011). Now it can’t launch until at least 2018, and probably won’t fly until as late as 2020, with an estimated final price tag of $6.8 billion. I couldn’t possibly comment on whether that is due to poor management or just that it’s an incredibly challenging project.
There’s a very informative piece on the Nature News Blog that explains that this is an early stage of the passage of the bill and that there’s a long way to go before JWST is definitely axed, but it is a worrying time for all those involved in it. There are serious implications for the European Space Agency, which is also involved in JWST, to STFC, which supports UK activity in related projects, and indeed for many groups of astronomers around the world who are currently engaged in building and testing instruments.
One of the arguments against cancelling JWST now is that all the money that has been spent on it so far would have been wasted, in other words that it’s “too big to fail”, which is an argument that obviously can’t be sustained indefinitely. It may be now it’s so far over budget that it’s become a political liability to NASA, i.e. it’s too big to succeed. It’s too early to say that JWST is doomed – this draft budget is partly a political shot across the bows of the President by the Republicans in the House – but it does that the politicians are prepared to think what has previously been unthinkable.
UPDATE: A statement has been issued by the American Astronomical Association.Follow @telescoper
You can read the accompanying press release here, so I’ll just post this brief description:
These four images are among the first observations made by the new Wide Field Camera 3 aboard the upgraded NASA Hubble Space Telescope.
The image at top left shows NGC 6302, a butterfly-shaped nebula surrounding a dying star. At top right is a picture of a clash among members of a galactic grouping called Stephan’s Quintet. The image at bottom left gives viewers a panoramic portrait of a colorful assortment of 100,000 stars residing in the crowded core of Omega Centauri, a giant globular cluster. At bottom right, an eerie pillar of star birth in the Carina Nebula rises from a sea of greenish-colored clouds.
My own favourite has to be Stephan’s Quintet, but they all look pretty fantastic.