Hubble Space Telescope Experiences Déjà Vu

Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 2903 captured using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) in 2021. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ho, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team

This jewel-bright Picture of the Week features the spiral galaxy NGC 2903. This image was captured using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which were installed on Hubble in 2002 and 2009 respectively. Interestingly, Hubble has observed this particular galaxy before, in 2001, (see image below) when neither the ACS or the WFC3 had yet been installed.

The 2021 image boasts higher resolution, which means that NGC 2903 is more finely detailed than in the 2001 image. The ACS and WFC2 collectively cover a wide range of ultraviolet, optical, and infrared wavelengths, which means that the 2021 image also has superior wavelength coverage to that of its 20-year-old predecessor. The 2001 image was taken using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), which was Hubble’s workhorse instrument from 1993 until 2009 when it was replaced by the WFC3.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 2903 captured using Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) in 2001. Credit: ESA & NASA

Hubble has a long and fascinating history of crewed service missions, which were performed in order to correct for imperfections in Hubble’s mirror, to update Hubble’s technical systems, and to remove old instruments and install new ones. One of Hubble’s most remarkable features is it’s incredible longevity, and this would not have been possible with the great success of the servicing missions. The juxtaposition of the 2001 and 2021 images of NGC 2903 — both remarkable images for their time — highlights the value of a stable, accessible platform in space that can reliably collect data, not only year after year, but decade after decade.

AstronomyEuropean Space AgencyHubble Space TelescopeNASA