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Point Hubble at a Galaxy!

Week of January 18, 1999

Every year or so, astronomers from all over the world submit proposals to try to get observing time aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The problem is, there is only so much observing time the telescope has, so most of those proposals are turned down. In fact, something like only one in six is accepted, and usually the astronomer gets less time than they ask for. This means that hundreds of astronomers go away disappointed. Getting time on Hubble is hard! So you can imagine that the odds of a member of the public getting to choose an object to observe would be very low indeed.

That was true until very recently. Enter the Hubble Heritage team. I have discussed them on these pages before; they take old images from HST that were never released and put them on their web pages. It takes the team quite a bit of effort to get the images set up, so they release one image a month, on the first Thursday.

The Heritage folks have a new plan: They are making a list of old images that were never released because they lacked something; perhaps only two color filters were used (you need three to make a ``true color'' image), or only a small part of a larger object was observed. Then they will cull the list to just a few targets, and then they will point HST at those objects, getting enough data to make a color image. This is an ambitious project, and it is done for one reason: to give the public a thanks for letting us astronomers build and use Hubble. American and European tax dollars went into it, and so it is only fair that the public gets as much out of that money as possible.

And now the Heritage team has done even more: they have chosen three beautiful galaxies that HST can observe to make an image, and they are letting the public choose which galaxy to observe! This is your chance to be a part of history; to be one of the very few people on the planet to pick an object to be observed by Hubble. I'll note here that I myself have never had a chance to point HST; I have always come in after some astronomer got their observations to help out. So it's possible that you, my readers, will get time on Hubble before I do! I voted on a galaxy last week (I won't say which one) so we'll see soon which gets chosen. You have until February 14, 1999 to vote, so hurry and check out their page!

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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