WIDE FIELD AND PLANETARY CAMERA-2 MISSION STATUS
Hubble Space Telescope
August 5, 1994
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Wide Field and Planetary Camera-2 -- the primary camera onboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope -- is continuing to take vivid images of distant stars, galaxies and the planets of the solar system.
For the last month, the majority of Hubble's time has been devoted to observations of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collisions in mid-July, although other unrelated celestial targets were interleaved into the observing schedule. The Wide Field and Planetary Camera-2 was used to take approximately 500 images of the collisions between July 15 and 26. Nearly 100 images also were taken of the comet fragments before they crashed to help scientists determine the fragment orbits, sizes and any evidence of fragment disintegration. Jupiter is currently about 780 million kilometers (480 million miles) from Hubble's orbit around Earth.
Observations will continue using the Wide Field and Planetary Camera-2 through the end of August, while debris continues to pummel the planet. This showering of comet debris will occur on the planet's near side as viewed from Earth. The collisions will occur at a decreasing pace both in terms of impact frequency and characteristic size of the individual particles.
As the events subside, astronomers will be interested in observing changes in the characteristics of the impact sites. The impact features appear to be evolving on time scales of days as the dark cloud sites move and become distorted by Jupiter's winds. Because these dark impact regions are at higher altitudes than the regular Jovian cloud decks, tracking the spots will provide an opportunity to measure the speed and direction of winds in Jupiter's upper atmosphere.
The Wide Field and Planetary Camera-2 is taking
advantage of its ultraviolet capability -- not available
from Earth-based telescopes -- to image the best full-disc
ultraviolet photographs ever taken of Jupiter. Ultraviolet
light is quickly absorbed by the planet's atmosphere so it
does not penetrate very far. As a result, astronomers see
only the highest part of the atmosphere, where the comet
activity is most prevalent, in ultraviolet light. This
explains why familiar features such as Jupiter's Great Red
Spot and different colored cloud stripes appear washed out
in ultraviolet images.
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