By Lori Stiles

The University of Arizona-built ‘infrared eyes’ of the Hubble Space
Telescope will be reopened to the universe in the NASA’s next shuttle
mission. A new infrared image of the "Pillars of Creation" is a glimpse
of what is to come.

Scientists revealed the new infrared images taken with the UA-built
infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) during a Feb. 15
NASA-televised news briefing on the upcoming shuttle mission to the

The images were taken by UA astronomy Professor Rodger I. Thompson,
Arizona State University Professor Jeff Hester, and former UA planetary
scientist Brad Smith. They show a very different view of the famous
"Pillars of Creation" optical image that Hester took with the HST
optical camera in 1995.

Seven astronauts will board Columbia Feb. 28 for an 11-day mission to
upgrade and enhance the 2.4-meter Hubble.

UA scientists are intensely interested because the goal of one of five
planned spacewalks is to revitalize NICMOS, the infrared camera and
spectrometer built by UA scientists for the HST. The crew is to install
an experimental cooling system and an associated radiator for NICMOS.

The new NICMOS image of the Eagle Nebula, taken before the camera’s
coolant was expended in 1999, demonstrates the importance of restoring
the Hubble’s "infrared eyes,"said Thompson, who is principal
investigator on NICMOS.


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New "Eagle Nebula" Image
M16, Eagle Nebula
Authors: Rodger I. Thompson, Bradford A. Smith, J. Jeff Hester

M16, NGC 6611, the Eagle Nebula, is a well studied region of star
formation and the source of a widely recognized Hubble Space Telescope
image. High spatial resolution infrared observations with the Near
Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) on HST reveal
the detailed morphology of two embedded star formation regions that
are heavily obscured at optical wavelengths. It is striking that only
limited portions of the visually obscured areas are opaque at 2.2
microns. although the optical images imply substantial columns of
material, the infrared images show only isolated clumps of dense gas
and dust.

Rather than being an active factory of star production, only a few
regions are capable of sustaining current star formation. Most of the
volume in the columns may be molecular gas and dust, protected by
capstones of dense dust.

Two active regions of star formation are located at the tips of the
optical northern and central large ‘elephant trunk" features shown
in the WFPC2 images. They are embedded in two capstones of infrared
opaque material that contains and trails behind the sources. Although
the presence of these sources was evident in previous observations
at the same and longer wavelengths, the NICMOS images provide a high
resolution picture of their morphology. Two bright stars appear at
the tip of the southern column and may be the result of recent star
formation at the top of that column. These observations suggest that
the epoch of star formation in M16 may be near its endpoint.