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Hubble Sees the Universe in a New Light
News story originally written on October 9, 1998

Scientists have been able to look farther into space than ever before by using a newly installed instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. The Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) has been used to gather light from galaxies that could be over 12 billion light-years away.

"This observation is a major step toward fulfilling one of Hubble's key objectives: to search for the faintest and farthest objects in the universe," said Ed Weiler, NASA's acting Associate Administrator for Space Science.

The new camera has been used to observe distant objects in greater detail than is present in the Hubble Deep Field, an image created with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

The WFPC2 takes pictures using visible light while the NICMOS uses infrared light. Infrared images are necessary to see deep into space because distant objects are moving away from us very fast and the light they emit is red-shifted. An object that normally would emit visible light if it were stationary actually will emit infrared light when it is moving away from us.

"This is just our first tentative glimpse into the very remote universe," says Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA. "What we see may be the first stages of galaxy formation. But the objects are so faint that their true nature can only be explored with the advanced telescopes of the future."

The future may only be nine years away. The Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) is scheduled for launch in 2007. It will be able to take higher-resolution pictures of these distant objects and possibly confirm their distance from us.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF