Press release: STScI-PR94-01

Picture perfect: Hubble's new improved optics probe the core of a distant galaxy

This comparison image of the core of the galaxy M100 shows the dramatic improvement in Hubble Space Telescope's view of the universe. The new image was taken with the second generation Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC-2) which was installed during the STS-61 Hubble Servicing Mission. The picture beautifully demonstrates that the corrective optics incorporated within the WFPC-2 compensate fully for optical aberration in Hubble's primary mirror. The new camera will allow Hubble to probe the universe with unprecedented clarity and sensitivity, and to fulfill many of the most important scientific objectives for which the telescope was originally built.


The core of the grand design spiral galaxy M100, as imaged by Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in its high resolution channel. The WFPC-2 contains modified optics that correct for Hubble's previously blurry vision, allowing the telescope for the first time to cleanly resolve faint structure as small as 30 light-years across in a galaxy which is tens of millions of light years away. The image was taken on December 31, 1993.


For comparison, a picture taken with the WFPC-1 camera in wide field mode, on November 27, 1993, just a few days prior to the STS-61 servicing mission. The effects of optical aberration in HST's 2.4-meter primary mirror blur starlight, smear out fine detail, and limit the telescope's ability to see faint structure. Both Hubble images are "raw;" they have not been subject to computer image reconstruction techniques commonly used in aberrated images made before the servicing mission.

Targer information: M100

The galaxy M100 (100th object in the Messier Catalog of non-stellar objects) is one of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. The galaxy is in the spring constellation Coma Berenices and can be seen through a moderate-sized amateur telescope. M100 is spiral shaped, like our Milky Way, and tilted nearly face-on as seen from earth. The galaxy has two prominent arms of bright stars and several fainter arms. Though the galaxy is estimated to be tens of millions of light-years away, Hubble reveals the sort of detail only seen previously (with ground based telescopes) in neighboring galaxies that are ten times closer. Before HST, astronomers could only see such a level of detail in roughly a dozen galaxies in our Local Group. Now, with Hubble's improved vision, the portion of the universe which can be studied with such clarity has grown a thousand fold. Only the future will tell what revelations await as Hubble's spectacular vision is applied to a host of fascinating and important questions about the universe and our place in it.

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last modified: 8 March 2000