Happy Anniversary Hubble Heritage!
HERITAGE PROJECT CELEBRATES FIVE
YEARS OF HARVESTING
THE BEST IMAGES FROM HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE
The Hubble Heritage Team of astronomers, who assemble
many of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's most stunning
pictures, is celebrating its five-year anniversary
with the release of the picturesque Sombrero galaxy.
One of the largest Hubble mosaics ever assembled,
this magnificent galaxy has an angular diameter
of nearly one-fifth of the full moon. The team used
Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take six
pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together
to create the final composite image. The photo reveals
a myriad of stars in a pancake-shaped disk as well
as a glowing central bulge of stars.
Since its inception in 1998, the Hubble Heritage
Project has released more than 65 images of dazzling
celestial objects, including planets, dying stars,
regions of star formation, clusters of stars, individual
galaxies, and even clusters of galaxies. This has
been done on a monthly basis.
On a faithful monthly schedule, the team releases
an astronomical image on its website: http://heritage.stsci.edu
on the first Thursday of every month. The image
is accompanied by supporting text and facts about
the object, and descriptions on the class of object
or the science interests of the astronomers working
with this data. The website also includes biographies
of the science astronomers and a glimpse at the
raw-filter data that goes into making the composite
The Heritage team of Space Telescope Science Institute
astronomers and image processing specialists selects
images from the Hubble Space Telescope's public
data archive. This database contains approximately
500,000 raw images taken over the past 13 years.
Although astronomers use Hubble to photograph numerous
celestial objects, those results are usually shared
with only the astronomical community. The Heritage
team periodically combs the archive looking for
interesting, but unreleased, pictures to become
Heritage image candidates.
"Some of the photogenic objects that have been
scientific targets often lack sufficient exposure
across a range of colors," explains Keith Noll,
the Heritage lead scientist. "In other archival
images the telescope's field of view only covers
a small, unrecognizable portion of the object, so
we have to fill in the rest." The Hubble Heritage
Project has been granted a small amount of observing
time to essentially "fill in the gaps" in these
The Heritage astronomers also seek visually interesting
objects in the universe that have not yet been selected
for Hubble scientific observations. For the Sombrero
galaxy, the Heritage program devoted a number of
orbits to complete a photo mosaic of the object.
Public visitors to the Heritage website (http://heritage.stsci.edu)
have also been invited to help select attractive
astronomical targets. One overwhelming choice of
the voters was the famous Horsehead Nebula in the
constellation Orion the hunter.
The core of the project team is made up of astronomers
Keith Noll, Howard Bond and Carol Christian who
consult on each image and on larger projects for
the website and the team. Image processors Lisa
Frattare and Zolt Levay do much of the hands-on
work for the monthly releases. Forrest Hamilton
has been instrumental in helping to identify which
astronomical objects make the best Heritage targets
and which archived data make the best Heritage releases.
A myriad of technical help is assembled from staff
at STScI and interns who maintain the website and
monthly release schedule.
Summer science interns search the archive and have
helped produce such great releases as NGC 3310,
Omega Centauri, NGC 6369 and Hoag's Object. The
Heritage program has been recognized for its contribution
to inspiring the public with some of the most photogenic
images ever produced in astronomy.
Recent achievements for the team include the Astronomical
Society of the Pacific 2003 Klumpke-Roberts award
for "outstanding contributions to the public understanding
and appreciation of astronomy." In 2002, two Heritage
images were selected in the Rochester Institute
of Technology's "Images From Science" traveling
gallery exhibit. Several images have been selected
by the US and UK postal systems. In 2000, a first-class
US postage stamp showing the Ring Nebula was one
of five Hubble images selected to be part of a commemorative
series of stamps honoring astronomer Edwin P. Hubble.
But the team is modest about the fanfare of attention
it receives and the role that the team members play
with such a popular project that gets hundreds of
thousands of web visitors every week. "The reason
that these images are so spectacular is not because
we enhance the images," says image processor Zolt
Levay, "but because the data is the best astronomical
data that has ever been taken."
Hubble's new Advanced Camera for Surveys, and eventually
the planned Wide Field Camera 3, promise to give
the Heritage team an opportunity to share with the
public even more opulent views of our colorful universe.