Astronomers may soon study new exciting objects which could never be observed before!
The W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii has just installed a new instrument called MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration).
It will allow scientists to study earliest galaxies in the universe.
"The instrument was designed to study the most distant, faintest galaxies," said UCLA physics and astronomy professor Ian S. McLean, project leader on
MOSFIRE and director of UCLA's Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics.
"When we look at the most distant galaxies, we see them not as they are now but as they were when the light left them that is just now arriving here.
Some of the galaxies that we are studying were formed some 10 billion years ago -- only a few billion years after the Big Bang.
Keck Observatory. Image credit: Laurie Hatch
We are looking back in time to the era of the formation of some of the very first galaxies, which are small and very faint. That is an era that we
need to study if we are going to understand the large-scale structure of the universe."
MOSFIRE gathers light in infrared wavelengths -- invisible to the human eye -- allowing it to penetrate cosmic dust and see distant objects whose
light has been stretched or "redshifted" to the infrared by the expansion of the universe.
With MOSFIRE, it will now become much easier to identify faint galaxies, "families of galaxies" and merging galaxies.
The instrument also will enable detailed observations of planets orbiting nearby stars, star formation within our own galaxy, the distribution of dark matter
in the universe and much more.
"We would like to study the environment of those early galaxies," said McLean, who built the instrument with colleagues from UCLA,
the California Institute of Technology and UC Santa Cruz, along with industrial sub-contractors.
"Sometimes there are large clusters with thousands of galaxies, sometimes small clusters. Often, black holes formed in the centers of galaxies."
MOSFIRE’s internal opto-mechanical layout. All components in the optical path, including the CSU, are shown. Image credit: Keck Observator
MOSFIRE allows astronomers to take an infrared image of a field and to study 46 galaxies simultaneously, providing the infrared spectrum for each galaxy.
Currently, it can take three hours or longer to obtain a good spectrum of just one galaxy, McLean noted.
One of the first infrared pictures from MOSFIRE on the Keck I Telescope showing two galaxies in collision: NGC4038 (upper) and NGC4039.
Also known as the Antennae galaxies, these objects are about 45 million light years away,
in the constellation of Corvus. The exposure was a brief 60 seconds under cloudy conditions. (Credit: Ian S. McLean/W.M. Keck Observatory)
McLean built the world's first infrared camera for wide use by astronomers in 1986 and since then has built eight increasingly sophisticated infrared
cameras and spectrometers -- which split light into its component colors -- as well as helping on a few others.
Light collected by the Keck I Telescope was fed into MOSFIRE for the first time on April 4, producing an astronomical image.
Astronomers are expected to start using MOSFIRE by September, following testing and evaluation in May and June.
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