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Max Mutchler

Max Mutchler

(Hubble Heritage Project
Space Telescope Science Institute)

My work on Hubble observations of the Carina Nebula began as an Archival Research (AR) proposal in 2007, designed to engage a high-school student intern in assembling the huge Hydrogen-alpha mosaic obtained a few years earlier with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). Although a press release version of the Carina Nebula mosaic had already been released as Hubble's 17th anniversary image, the underlying science data still existed as an unassembled 200-piece puzzle in the archive. This daunting data set is so expansive that it strained the ability of our software tools and data reduction methods to align, clean and combine all the exposures into mosaics -- I was initially worried that my student intern had chosen a project that was too difficult. But not only did the Carina Nebula AR project succeed, it initiated a remarkable series of Carina-based imaging and outreach projects that I have been involved in over the last few years.

The Hubble Heritage Team returned to one of the Carina fields, NGC 3324, adding new Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images to the older ACS images to commemorate the Heritage project's 10th anniversary in 2008. Another Carina field, HH 666, became one of the Early Release Observations for the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which was installed during Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in 2009. For Hubble's 20th anniversary in 2010, we revisited HH 901 in the Carina Nebula with WFC3, and the ACS image produced in parallel (simultaneously) was combined with the older ACS image to make this new color image.

But beyond this series of iconic images, the most unique events for me resulted from a supplementary public outreach proposal to produce a tactile image of the Carina Nebula mosaic. It was gratifying to have visually-impaired students at the July 2009 National Federation of the Blind “Youth Slam” event exploring the Carina Nebula with their fingers, and pondering the birth and death of stars. I also brought earlier tactile prototypes to the White House Star Party in October 2009, and saw our material spontaneously translated into sign language during our debut at the January 2010 AAS Meeting in Washington DC. This outreach effort has now led to a monthy series of downloadable “do-it-yourself” tactile images, which includes Carina's HH 666 and HH 901.

For me, Carina has been the nebula that keeps on giving. This series of events has been a prime example of Hubble's ability to reach beyond the scientific community and engage the rest of humanity in it's adventure.

National Federation of the Blind's Youth Slam 2009 student
Olivia Smithmier-Bohn exploring the tactile image of the Carina Nebula.