British eye on eye in the sky

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A space shuttle mission being launched today to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope will be watched with special interest by British astronomers. Sixteen major research proposals from the UK have been accepted by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA, for the next cycle of Hubble observations.

They include investigations of white dwarf stars, colliding galaxies, gravitational lenses and quasars. Astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery will fit two new instruments to the telescope. The Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) will be the first of Hubble's instruments to probe the sky at infrared wavelengths.

A second device, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STLS), will analyse the composition and structure of stars and other objects. It replaces two older instruments which will be brought back to Earth aboard Discovery.