The Hubble Space Telelscope has its infrared vision back. The space telescope has been blind at infrared wavelengths since 1999 when NICMOS, or the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, ran out of cryogen. Then last March astronauts installed a closed-cycle cryocooler that will keep the key instrument operating indefinitely.

University of Arizona astronomy Professor Rodger I. Thompson, Edward Cheng of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Daniela Calzetti of the Space Telescope Science Institute will release the first post-servicing images from NICMOS at 10 a.m. (Mountain Daylight Time) Wednesday, June 5, at the American Astronomical Society national meeting in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Insiders tell us the first new images, just gathered, are spectacular,” said AAS press officer Stephen Maran, who organized the news conference.

NICMOS is a $100 million space instrument conceived, designed and built by the University of Arizona under contract from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Thompson, principal investigator for NICMOS, spearheaded the effort.

Thompson and his colleagues at the UA and other universities first proposed NICMOS for the Hubble Space Telescope in 1984. UA team members include John Hill, Frank Low, Donald McCarthy Jr., Marcia Rieke (deputy principal investigator), Glenn Schneider, and Erick Young.

Rieke, UA astronomer Rob Kennicutt, and senior research associate Erich Karkoschka of the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab are among 28 researchers who have won observing time in the new cycle of NICMOS operations.

After NICMOS was installed onboard the HST during the second servicing mission in February 1997, it made observations of newly forming stars and regions containing the farthest and faintest galaxies ever imagined. It revealed as never before planets in our solar system and possible planets beyond. It observed a supernova that confirmed our universe is accelerating, rather than slowing down, as it expands. It achieved nearly all its scientific objectives before 1999, when coolant necessary to chill NICMOS’ infrared detectors was depleted.

NASA developed the new mechanical cryocooler that cools NICMOS to temperatures around 75-86 degrees Kelvin (between minus 198 degrees and minus 187 degrees Celsius, or minus 325 degrees and minus 304 degrees Fahrenheit).