Status Report

NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4680

By SpaceRef Editor
August 22, 2008
Filed under , ,


Continuing to collect World Class Science

PERIOD COVERED: 5am August 21 – 5am August 22, 2008 (DOY 234/0900z-235/0900z)


NIC1 11136

Resolving Ultracool Astrophysics with Brown Dwarf Binaries

We propose to obtain resolved far-red and near-IR photometry of 13 brown dwarf binaries with HST/NICMOS in order to study one of the long-standing puzzles in ultracool astrophysics, namely the rapid change in spectra from L dwarfs to T dwarfs at nearly constant effective temperature (a.k.a. the “L/T transition”). While many nearby brown dwarfs have been studied, use of such samples is inevitably hindered by the unknown ages, masses, and metallicities of the field population. Characterization of resolved ultracool binaries is a promising avenue for addressing this problem, by providing coeval systems of the same composition with comparable masses and temperatures. Our proposed HST/NICMOS (0.9-1.6 micron) observations will be combined with longer wavelength ground-based photometry and spectroscopy from Keck laser guide star adaptive optics. The resulting multiband (0.9-2.5 micron) dataset will be a unique resource for measuring the evolution of spectral energy distributions across the L/T transition, to test state-of-the-art atmospheric models, and to determine the physical process(es) that dominate the L/T transition. Understanding the L/T transition is important not only for testing brown dwarf atmospheres, but also provides a key pathway for understanding the same physical effects, namely the formation and removal of clouds, in the atmospheres of the extrasolar planets.

NIC1 11205

The Effects of Multiplicity on the Evolution of Young Stellar Objects: A NICMOS Imaging Study

We propose to use NICMOS to investigate the multiplicity of young stellar objects (YSOs) in the Orion B molecular cloud. Previous observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope have revealed a remarkable star forming filament near the NGC 2068 reflection nebula. The population of YSOs associated with the filament exhibit a surprisingly wide range of circumstellar evolutionary states, from deeply embedded protostars to T Tauri accretion disks. Many of the circumstellar disks themselves show evidence for significant dust evolution, including grain growth and settling and cleared inner holes, apparently in spite of the very young age of these stars. We will estimate the binary fraction of a representative sample of objects in these various stages of evolution in order to test whether companions may play a significant role in that evolution.

NIC1/NIC2/NIC3 11330

NICMOS Cycle 16 Extended Dark

This takes a series of Darks in parallel to other instruments.

NIC1/NIC2/NIC3 8795

NICMOS Post-SAA Calibration – CR Persistence Part 6

A new procedure proposed to alleviate the CR-persistence problem of NICMOS. Dark frames will be obtained immediately upon exiting the SAA contour 23, and every time a NICMOS exposure is scheduled within 50 minutes of coming out of the SAA. The darks will be obtained in parallel in all three NICMOS Cameras. The POST-SAA darks will be non-standard reference files available to users with a USEAFTER date/time mark. The keyword ‘USEAFTER=date/time’ will also be added to the header of each POST-SAA DARK frame. The keyword must be populated with the time, in addition to the date, because HST crosses the SAA ~8 times per day so each POST-SAA DARK will need to have the appropriate time specified, for users to identify the ones they need. Both the raw and processed images will be archived as POST-SAA DARKSs. Generally we expect that all NICMOS science/calibration observations started within 50 minutes of leaving an SAA will need such maps to remove the CR persistence from the science images. Each observation will need its own CRMAP, as different SAA passages leave different imprints on the NICMOS detectors.

NIC2 11101

The Relevance of Mergers for Fueling AGNs: Answers from QSO Host Galaxies

The majority of QSOs are known to reside in centers of galaxies that look like ellipticals. Numerical simulations have shown that remnants of galaxy mergers often closely resemble elliptical galaxies. However, it is still strongly debated whether the majority of QSO host galaxies are indeed the result of relatively recent mergers or whether they are completely analogous to inactive ellipticals to which nothing interesting has happened recently. To address this question, we recently obtained deep HST ACS images for five QSO host galaxies that were classified morphologically as ellipticals {GO-10421}. This pilot study revealed striking signs of tidal interactions such as ripples, tidal tails, and warped disks that were not detected in previous studies. Our observations show that at least some “elliptical” QSO host galaxies are the products of relatively recent merger events rather than old galaxies formed at high redshift. However, the question remains whether the host galaxies of classical QSOs are truly distinct from inactive ellipticals and whether there is a connection between the merger events we detect and the current nuclear activity. We must therefore place our results into a larger statistical context. We are currently conducting an HST archival study of inactive elliptical galaxies {AR- 10941} to form a control sample. We now propose to obtain deep HST/WFPC2 images of 13 QSOs whose host galaxies are classified as normal ellipticals. Comparing the results for both samples will help us determine whether classical QSOs reside in normal elliptical galaxies or not. Our recent pilot study of five QSOs indicates that we can expect exciting results and deep insights into the host galaxy morphology also for this larger sample of QSOs. A statistically meaningful sample will help us determine the true fraction of QSO hosts that suffered strong tidal interactions and thus, whether a merger is indeed a requirement to trigger nuclear activity in the most luminous AGNs. In addition to our primary science observations with WFPC2, we will obtain NICMOS3 parallel observations with the overall goal to select and characterize galaxy populations at high redshifts. The imaging will be among the deepest NICMOS images: These NICMOS images are expected to go to a limit a little over 1 magnitude brighter than HUDF-NICMOS data, but over 13 widely separated fields, with a total area about 1.5 times larger than HUDF- NICMOS. This separation means that the survey will tend to average out effects of cosmic variance. The NICMOS3 images will have sufficient resolution for an initial characterization of galaxy morphologies, which is currently one of the most active and promising areas in approaching the problem of the formation of the first massive galaxies. The depth and area coverage of our proposed NICMOS observations will also allow a careful study of the mass function of galaxies at these redshifts. This provides a large and unbiased sample, selected in terms of stellar mass and unaffected by cosmic variance, to study the on-going star formation activity as a function of mass {i.e. integrated star formation} at this very important epoch.

NIC3 11334

NICMOS Cycle 16 Spectrophotometry

Observation of the three primary WD flux standards must be repeated to refine the NICMOS absolute calibration and monitor for sensitivity degradation. So far, NICMOS grism spectrophotometry is available for only ~16 stars with good STIS spectra at shorter wavelengths. There are more in the HST CALSPEC standard star data base with good STIS spectra that would also become precise IR standards with NICMOS absolute SED measurements. Monitoring the crucial three very red stars (M, L, T) for variability and better S/N in the IR. Apparent variability was discovered at shorter wavelengths during the ACS cross-calibration work that revealed a ~2% discrepancy of the cool star fluxes with respect to the hot primary WD standards. About a third of these stars are bright enough to do in one orbit, the rest require 2 orbits.

WFPC2 11156

Monitoring Active Atmospheres on Uranus and Neptune

We propose Snapshot observations of Uranus and Neptune to monitor changes in their atmospheres on time scales of weeks and months. Uranus equinox is only months away, in December 2007. Hubble Space Telescope observations during the past several years {Hammel et al. 2005, Icarus 175, 284 and references therein} have revealed strongly wavelength- dependent latitudinal structure, the presence of numerous visible-wavelength cloud features in the northern hemisphere, at least one very long-lived discrete cloud in the southern hemisphere, and in 2006 the first dark spot ever seen on Uranus. Long-term ground-based observations {Lockwood and Jerzekiewicz, 2006, Icarus 180, 442; Hammel and Lockwood 2007, Icarus 186, 291} reveal seasonal brightness changes whose origins are not well understood. Recent near- IR images of Neptune obtained using adaptive optics on the Keck Telescope, together with HST observations {Sromovsky et al. 2003, Icarus 163, 256 and references therein} which include previous Snapshot programs {GO 8634, 10170, 10534} show a general increase in activity at south temperate latitudes until 2004, when Neptune returned to a rather Voyager-like appearance. Further Snapshot observations of these two dynamic planets will elucidate the nature of long-term changes in their zonal atmospheric bands and clarify the processes of formation, evolution, and dissipation of discrete albedo features.

WFPC2 11221

A Dark Core in Abell 520

We have recently discovered that the rich cluster Abell 520 exhibits truly extreme multi-wavelength characteristics. The data indicate that the cluster is the site of a major merger. Our weak lensing analysis, based on a deep CFHT image, suggests the presence of a massive dark core that coincides with the central X-ray emission peak, while being largely devoid of galaxies. Although a displacement between the X-ray gas and the galaxy/dark matter distribution may be expected in a merger (e.g. as in the bullet cluster), the dark matter peak without galaxies cannot be easily explained within the current collisionless dark matter paradigm. A higher resolution mass map is required to make further progress, as it will enable us to examine the detailed structure of the dark matter distribution, as well as improve the significance of the dark peak. We propose a 3 x 3 WFPC2 mosaic of interlaced images, where each pointing consists of two sets of F814W exposures offset by 5.5 pixels. This will precisely pinpoint the locations of the highest lensing peaks, enhance the comparison with the Chandra X-ray data, and test physical and geometrical models for the spatial and thermal structure of this remarkable cluster derived from our suite of gas+dark matter simulations of head-on/off-axis cluster mergers.


Significant Spacecraft Anomalies: (The following are preliminary reports of potential non-nominal performance that will be investigated.)

HSTARS: (None)



                                SCHEDULED      SUCCESSFUL
FGS GSacq                        07              07
FGS REacq                        08              08
OBAD with Maneuver               30              30


SpaceRef staff editor.