The Hubble Space Telescope’s premier camera has shut down because of a hardware problem.
NASA said the camera stopped working Tuesday. Hubble’s three other science instruments are still working fine, with celestial observations continuing.
This third incarnation of the wide field camera was installed by spacewalking astronauts in 2009. The camera has backup electronics that could be called into action, if necessary, according to NASA.
The camera has captured stunning images of stars, galaxies stretching far back in time and assisted in deep sky surveys. It’s also studied objects in our own solar system, discovering some of the tiny moons around Pluto, as well as the 14th moon around Neptune. It takes pictures in both visible and ultraviolet light, as well as near infrared.
Orbiting 350 miles (560 kilometers) above Earth, Hubble was launched in 1990 and visited by space shuttle astronauts, for repairs and upgrades, five times.
Last fall, Hubble stopped working altogether for three weeks because of a pointing problem. This is the first time the camera has acted up like this, said Cheryl Gundy, a spokeswoman with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which handle science operations for the telescope.
“NASA is trying to pull together the team to try to diagnose the issue,” Gundy said Wednesday.
Scientists are analysing the images taken under harsh light conditions by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera of the area where the Vikram moon lander is likely to have touched down on the moon and it may be a while before they can locate it, project experts told IANS.
LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Noah Petro, said on Wednesday that they were now analysing the images taken on Tuesday “and we will make a statement at some point when we can identify the lander.”
But he added, “It is important to remember that the illumination conditions right now where the lander may be are harsh.”
Therefore, it “could be difficult to identify right now (and it) may be a little longer before we have another opportunity to image the landing site next October 14” when the LRO next passes over that area of the moon.
The principal investigator for the LRO camera, Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, said that the last image of the area was acquired on Wednesday and will take time to analyse as there are “lots and lots and lots of pixels” to go through.
A NASA statement carried a note of caution saying that when the LRO flew over the Vikram landing the “local lunar time was near dusk; large shadows covered much of the area.”
The LROC “acquired images around the targeted landing site, but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” NASA said.
“The LROC team will analyze these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area),” it added.