The Hubble Space Telescope has always been an amazing machine, but it was recently made even more amazing with some repairs and optical upgrades in daring spacewalks. The first pics are out now, and they're stunning.
The HST was visited by Space Shuttle Atlantis in May, a mission that had been long-delayed and was even at risk of cancellation due to the potential danger to the astronauts in the case of a space vehicle failure. Notwithstanding these setbacks, Atlantis made it to Hubble's high orbit and performed five spacewalks to fix and upgrade the telescope. Among the work performed was an upgrade to the telescope's cooling blankets, a repair to the Advanced Camera for Surveys and new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and Wide Field Camera installations.
Check out three of the first images from the newly-polished Hubble below:
This is the planetary nebula NGC6302, which is within our Galaxy, and it was taken with the new Wide Field Camera.
This image captures light from over 100,000 stars in the Globular Cluster Omega Centauri, and it too was taken with the new Wide Field Camera.
These five whirling galaxies form what's known as Stephan's Quintet, and were also snapped by the new WFC.
There are many more images, which NASA had been holding back (they were taken at different times over the preceding months) since they were so impressive and worth releasing as a collection to demonstrate the continuing power of the HST. They're also something of a historical marker--over the next several years the Hubble will continue to age and its instruments will eventually fail, so these represent something like the peak of the Hubble's capabilities. That's because no human hand is likely to touch the HST ever again. But given the magnitude of the success in repairing it--only really possible thanks to human spaceflight endeavors--perhaps this will push President Obama to fund the extra cash to get astronauts back on the Moon