The Advanced Camera for Surveys, a new Hubble Space Telescope instrument built by a team led by a Johns Hopkins astronomer, has won a Best of What's New Award from Popular Science magazine. The award winners are featured in a special section in the magazine's December issue.
"To win, a product or technology must represent a significant step forward in its category," Scott Mowbray, editor in chief of Popular Science, wrote in a letter to winners. "We review thousands of new products and innovations and choose just 100 winners in 10 categories."
NASA astronauts installed the ACS in the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope during a shuttle mission in early March of this year. The cutting-edge technology included in ACS and its orbital vantage point aboard Hubble put it in a prime position to peer deeper into the universe and with greater detail than almost any instrument currently available to astronomers.
When astronomers released the first results from the newly operational ACS in April, they were delighted with the details discernible in the spectacular new images.
"These are among the best images of the distant universe humans have ever seen," said Holland Ford, professor of astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, at the time.
Ford led a team of scientists and engineers who designed and built the ACS. The group came from research institutions across the country, but members are primarily located at Johns Hopkins, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Ball Aerospace Corp. and the Space Telescope Science Institute. They set lofty goals, including sharp increases in observational area, sensitivity and resolution; and inclusion of a variety of cutting-edge observational tools and devices.
"This award from Popular Science provides a wonderful new acknowledgment of the innovative work that went into the creation of ACS," Ford says. "We took advantage of new techniques and technology developed since Hubble's inception to deliver increased observing power at greatly reduced costs."
Inside ACS are three electronic cameras--wide-field, high-resolution and solar-blind--and a range of filters, polarizers, dispersers and other astronomical tools. ACS can detect radiation ranging from the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum, through visible light, to a portion of the spectrum known as the near infrared.
Ford predicts that ACS will produce several years' worth of spectacular images and scientific breakthroughs, including possible imaging of the faintest objects ever observed, and a long-shot chance at the first direct images of planets orbiting nearby stars.
"It's going to be very difficult to capture an image like that, but we're certainly going to try it," Ford says.