Status Report

NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4826

By SpaceRef Editor
April 8, 2009
Filed under , ,


Continuing to collect World Class Science

PERIOD COVERED: 5am April 3 – 5am April 6, 2009 (DOY 093/0900z-096/0900z)


WFPC2 11987

The Recent Star Formation History of SINGS Galaxies

The Spitzer Legacy project SINGS provided a unique view of the current state of star formation and dust in a sample of galaxies of all Hubble types. This multi-wavelength view allowed the team to create current star formation diagnostics that are independent of the dust content and increased our understanding of the dust in galaxies. Even so, using the SINGS data alone we can only make rough estimates of the recent star formation history of these galaxies. The lack of U-band observations means that it is impossible to estimate the ages of young clusters. In addition, the low resolution of the Spitzer and ground-based observations means that what appear to be individual Spitzer sources can actually be composed of many individual clusters with varying ages. In this proposal we plan to address this missing area in SINGS by obtaining high-resolution WFPC2 UBVI observations to accurately find and determine the ages of the young stellar clusters in a subset of the SINGS galaxies. These observations will greatly enhance the legacy value of the SINGS observations while also directly answering questions pertaining to star formation in galaxies.

WFPC2 11986

Completing HST’s Local Volume Legacy

Nearby galaxies offer one of the few laboratories within which stellar populations can be tied to multi-wavelength observations. They are thus essential for calibrating and interpreting key astrophysical observables, such as broad-band luminosities, durations and energy input from starbursts, and timescales of UV, H-alpha, and FIR emission. The study of stellar populations in nearby galaxies requires high-resolution observations with HST, but HST’s legacy for this limited set of galaxies remains incomplete.

As a first attempt to establish this legacy, The ACS Nearby Galaxy Survey Treasury (ANGST) began observations in late 2006. ANGST was designed to carry out a uniform multi-color survey of a volume-limited sample of ~70 nearby galaxies that could be used for systematic studies of resolved stellar populations. The resulting data provide nuanced constraints on the processes which govern star formation and galaxy evolution, for a well-defined population of galaxies. All photometry for the survey has been publicly released.

However, the failure of ACS 4.5 months after ANGST began taking data led to a drastic reduction in the planned survey. The loss is two-fold. First, the goals of completeness and uniformity were greatly compromised, impacting global comparison studies. Second, the variety of observed star formation histories was reduced. Given that we have never found two galaxies with identical star formation histories, and fully sampling the population allows us to catch those few systems whose star formation rates and metallicities place the strongest constraints on key astrophysical processes.

Here we propose WFPC2 observations of all remaining galaxies within the Local Volume (D<3.5Mpc) for which current HST observations are insufficient for meaningful stellar population studies. We will use these observations for research on the star formation histories of individual galaxies and the Local Volume, detailed calibrations of star formation rate indicators, and the durations of starbursts. We will also make them publicly available through the ANGST archive to support future research. The proposed observations will finally complete a lasting legacy of HST

WFPC2 11985

Polarimetric WFPC2 Imaging of the Dust Torus Around the Born-Again Star V605 Aquilae

We propose the first WFPC2 polarimetric imaging of the ejecta surrounding the helium shell final flash (FF) star V605 Aql. Polarimetry is a novel, little-used capability of WFPC2, which can provide confirmation of our proposed morphology of the compact ejecta..

Evolutionary models suggest that V605 Aql is experiencing a very late and very fast thermal pulse. Its evolution from a PN central star on the white-dwarf cooling track, to a cool luminous giant, and then back again, took place in only a few decades or less. V605 Aql, central star of the large, faint, and old planetary nebula A 58, has evolved from a hot central star before the 20th century, to Teff = 5000 K in 1921, and back to 95, 000 K at the present time.

A compact, but resolved, dusty nebula lies at the site of V605 Aql. In addition to an extremely hydrogen-deficient nebular emission spectrum, this knot shows stellar features, even though no star-like object is seen within the knot. Therefore, we are probably seeing light from the star scattered around the edge of a thick dust torus viewed nearly edge-on, ejected during the FF event in the early 20th century. Why a star that had already reached the top of the white-dwarf cooling track, and then expanded to become a red giant again, would be capable of such non-spherical ejection is one of the leading mysteries in late stellar evolution. We will use the high resolution of the WFPC2 PC chip to investigate the nature of the V605 Aql torus, employing filters that isolate nebular emission lines.

The novel feature of our program is polarimetric imaging in the WF2 chip, using a filter that isolates scattered starlight and rejects nebular emission. If our model is correct, this scattered starlight will be very highly polarized. We will also measure the angular expansion rate of the central knot to constrain the distance. V605 Aql is a unique link between the young FF star Sakurai’s Object (10 years old), and the extended FF objects A30 and A78 (few 1000 years old).

ACS/SBC 11982

Spanning the Reionization History of IGM Helium: a Large and Efficient HST Spectral Survey of Far-UV-Bright Quasars

The reionization of IGM helium is thought to have occurred at redshifts of z=3 to 4. Detailed studies of HeII Lyman-alpha absorption toward a handful of QSOs at 2.72.8 SDSS DR7 (and other) quasars with GALEX GR4 UV sources to obtain 550 new, high confidence, sightlines potentially useful for HST HeII studies; and in cycle 15-16 trials we demonstrated the efficacy of our SDSS/GALEX selection approach identifying 9 new HeII quasars at unprecedented 67% efficiency. We propose the first far-UV-bright HeII quasar survey that is both large in scale and also efficient, via 2-orbit reconnaissance ACS/SBC prism spectra toward a highly select subset of 40 new SDSS/GALEX quasars at 3.14), enabling superb post-SM4 follow-up spectra with COS or STIS. But simultaneously and independent of any SM4 uncertainties, we will hereby directly obtain 10-orbit UV spectral stacks from the 5 HeII quasars in each of the 8 redshift bins to trace the reionization history of IGM helium over at least 3.1

WFPC2 11975

UV Light from Old Stellar Populations: a Census of UV Sources in Galactic Globular Clusters

In spite of the fact that HST has been the only operative high-resolution eye in the UV-window over the last 18 years, no homogeneous UV survey of Galactic globular clusters (GGCs) has been performed to date. In order to fill this gap in the stellar population studies, we propose a program that exploits the unique capability of the WFPC2 and the SBC in the far-/mid- UV for securing deep UV imaging of 46 GGCs. The proposed observations will allow to study with unprecedented accuracy the hottest GGC stars, comprising the extreme horizontal branch (HB) stars and their progeny (the so-called AGB-manque’, and Post-early AGB stars), and “exotic stellar populations” like the blue straggler stars and the interacting binaries. The targets have been selected to properly sample the GGC metallicity/structural parameter space, thus to unveil any possible correlation between the properties of the hot stellar populations and the cluster characteristics. In addition, most of the targets have extended HB “blue tails”, that can be properly studied only by means of deep UV observations, especially in the far-UV filters like the F160BW, that is not foreseen on the WFC3. This data base is complemented with GALEX observations in the cluster outermost regions, thus allowing to investigate any possible trend of the UV-bright stellar types over the entire radial extension of the clusters. Although the hottest GGC stars are just a small class of “special” objects, their study has a broad relevance in the context of structure formation and chemical evolution in the early Universe, bringing precious information on the basic star formation processes and the origin of blue light from galaxies. Indeed, the proposed observations will provide the community with an unprecedented data set suitable for addressing a number of still open astrophysical questions, ranging from the main drivers of the HB morphology and the mass loss processes, to the origin of the UV upturn in elliptical galaxies, the dating of distant systems from integrated light, and the complex interplay between stellar evolution and dynamics in dense stellar aggregates. In the spirit of constructing a community resource, we entirely waive the proprietary period for these observations.

WFPC2 11974

High-resolution Imaging for 9 Very Bright, Spectroscopically Confirmed, Group-scale Lenses

There are large samples of strong lenses that probe small (galaxy) scale masses (e.g., SLACS, SQLS, COSMOS). There are also large samples of strong lenses that probe large (rich cluster) scale masses (e.g., various rich Abell clusters, the Hennawi et al. 2008 SDSS sample). The sample of strong lenses that probe intermediate (group/cluster-core) scale masses, however, is sparse, and so any significant additions to this sample are important. Here we present a sample of strong lenses that not only probe these intermediate scales but are also quite bright, since the sample is based almost entirely upon data from the SDSS, a relatively shallow and poor-resolution survey, at least in comparison to most other strong lens hunting grounds, such as COSMOS and CFHTLS. What we lack are the high-resolution imaging data needed to construct detailed lensing models, to probe the mass and light profiles of the lensing galaxies and their environments, and to characterize the morphologies of the lensed (source) galaxies. Only HST can provide these data, and so we are proposing here for 81 orbits of deep WFPC2 F450W, F606W and F814W imaging, for 9 of our best and brightest intermediate-scale lensing systems with known spectroscopic redshifts and with Einstein radii between 4 and 8 arcsec.

WFPC2 11944

Binaries at the Extremes of the H-R Diagram

We propose to use HST/Fine Guidance Sensor 1r to survey for binaries among some of the most massive, least massive, and oldest stars in our part of the Galaxy. FGS allows us to spatially resolve binary systems that are too faint to observe using ground-based, speckle or optical long baseline interferometry, and too close to resolve with AO. We propose a SNAP-style program of single orbit FGS TRANS mode observations of very massive stars in the cluster NGC 3603, luminous blue variables, nearby low mass main sequence stars, cool subdwarf stars, and white dwarfs. These observations will help us to (1) identify systems suitable for follow up studies for mass determination, (2) study the role of binaries in stellar birth and in advanced evolutionary states, (3) explore the fundamental properties of stars near the main sequence-brown dwarf boundary, (4) understand the role of binaries for X-ray bright systems, (5) find binaries among ancient and nearby subdwarf stars, and (6) help calibrate the white dwarf mass – radius relation.

WFPC2 11795

WFPC2 Cycle 16 UV Earth Flats

Monitor flat field stability. This proposal obtains sequences of earth streak flats to improve the quality of pipeline flat fields for the WFPC2 UV filter set. These Earth flats will complement the UV earth flat data obtained during cycles 8-15.

FGS 11788

The Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems

Are all planetary systems coplanar? Concordance cosmogony makes that prediction. It is, however, a prediction of extrasolar planetary system architecture as yet untested by direct observation for main sequence stars other than the Sun. To provide such a test, we propose to carry out FGS astrometric studies on four stars hosting seven companions. Our understanding of the planet formation process will grow as we match not only system architecture, but formed planet mass and true distance from the primary with host star characteristics for a wide variety of host stars and exoplanet masses.

We propose that a series of FGS astrometric observations with demonstrated 1 millisecond of arc per-observation precision can establish the degree of coplanarity and component true masses for four extrasolar systems: HD 202206 (brown dwarf+planet); HD 128311 (planet+planet), HD 160691 = mu Arae (planet+planet), and HD 222404AB = gamma Cephei (planet+star). In each case the companion is identified as such by assuming that the minimum mass is the actual mass. For the last target, a known stellar binary system, the companion orbit is stable only if coplanar with the AB binary orbit.

WFPC2 11316

HST Cycle 16 & Pre-SM4 Optical Monitor

This is a continuation of the Cycle 15 & pre-SM4 Optical Monitor, 11020. Please see that proposal for a more complete description of the observing strategy. The 6 visits comprising this proposal observe two single standard stars with WFPC2/PC in order to establish overall OTA focal length for the purposes of focus maintenance. The goal of this monitoring before SM4 is to establish a best estimate of the OTA focus entering SMOV.


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

HSTARS: (None)



                      SCHEDULED      SUCCESSFUL
FGS GSAcq                18             18
FGS REAcq                24             24
OBAD with Maneuver       70             70


SpaceRef staff editor.