Venice and Hubble: A Sense of History

Conference Report

Brad Whitmore,, and Antonella Nota,

Astronomical conferences are held in a variety of locations, ranging from big city convention centers to college campuses, science institutes to observatories. Rarely has a meeting been more evocatively situated than the recent “Science with the Hubble Space Telescope III. Two Decades and Counting,” which was held in Venice in October 2010. Venice is famous for its classic combination of arts and science, and Hubble is established as an unsurpassed source of science and beauty.

The Venice meeting was the third major meeting on Hubble sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA). The first was in Sardinia in 1992, two years after the Hubble launch. The second was in Paris in 1995, following the first servicing mission and repair of the telescope’s spherical aberration. The Venice meeting marked Hubble’s 20th year in orbit, now operating with fifth-generation instruments. Many of the speakers at the meeting were only school children when Hubble was launched, which gave perspective to the sense of history inspired by the subject and venue.

The Scientific Organizing Committee designed the programme to achieve a balance between the past, with a celebration of the extraordinary results obtained by Hubble so far in its lifetime, and the future, with enthusiastic anticipation for science yet-to-come, following the successful Servicing Mission 4 (SM4).

David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, opened the conference, noting that Hubble paved the way for several other collaborations between ESA and NASA, including the future James Webb Space Telescope. David Leckrone and Duccio Macchetto recalled the early days of Hubble, from both the U.S. and European perspectives. Adding to the nostalgia were several before-and-after image pairs, highlighting the successful repair of the telescope in the first servicing mission.

One full day was devoted to new results following SM4. Randy Kimble and Robert O’Connell talked about Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). A preview of future WFC3 results was provided by overviews of three Multiple Cycle Treasury (MCT) programs: the Cosmic Assembly Near-IR Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS; Sandra Faber), the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH; Marc Postman), and the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT; Julianne Dalcanton).

James Green discussed the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), and showed new findings on reionization. Cynthia Froning highlighted progress sorting out the cosmic web—the vast foam-like structure of cosmic matter on the largest scale. After only one year in operation, COS has increased the number of Lyman-alpha sightlines by a factor of ten. Jason Tumlinson discussed searches for the missing baryons, and Christopher Thom and John Stocke talked about probing the outer halos of nearby galaxies.