Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronomers' first "movie of the sky": Pan-STARRS survey starts science mission

16.06.2010
The Pan-STARRS project has begun a unique program of observing three quarters of the night sky: the systematic search for astronomical objects that change over time. Its data will enable astronomers to search for dangerous asteroids on a possible collision course with Earth, but also to tackle some of astronomy's deepest mysteries: Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

Scientists of the Max Planck Institutes for Astronomy and for Extraterrestrial Physics are involved in a number of the survey's key projects, including searches for extra-solar planets, for "failed stars" known as Brown Dwarfs, and for distant active galaxies.


The Pan-STARRS1 observatory on Haleakala, Maui, just before sunrise. Credit: Rob Ratowski

The timeless configuration of stars in the night sky is a veritable symbol of changelessness. Yet closer inspection reveals that there is action in the sky – from objects such as variable stars to rare events such as stellar explosions which are visible for a brief period of time only. A new survey specifically targets such celestial change: Pan-STARRS1 will make repeated observations that should cover all regions within 75% of the night sky at least 30 times, while regions of special interest will be observed several hundred times. The result is a unique "movie of the sky".

"Every month, Pan-STARRS1 will observe one sixth of the sky at five different wavelengths" explains Dr. Roberto Saglia of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. "In this way, we can track changes in brightness. We can also use our data for an especially deep look into certain regions of the sky." These regions are observed every night. The resulting data will also be used to draw a particularly detailed three-dimensional map of the Milky Way Galaxy, our cosmic home, and to produce a complete inventory of variable astronomical objects for our cosmic neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy.

Pan-STARRS1 also acts as a classical survey, where astronomers look for known types of celestial objects. It will search, among other things, for extremely faint and red objects, such as Brown Dwarfs (objects that do not have sufficient mass to evolve into proper stars) and the earliest active galaxies ("quasars at redshift z = 7") at distances of more than 13 billion light-years. Another part of the search has a very practical goal: Pan-STARRS1 is set to chart asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth in a catastrophic "global impact" event.

Pan-STARRS' repeated observations of large regions of the sky make it the ideal tool to track phenomena that change over time. A key example are "transiting exoplanets" – planets around distant stars that, as seen from Earth, periodically move in front of their mother star, obscuring a tiny fraction of the star's light and thus causing a slight dip in its apparent brightness. Its observational strategy also increases the chances of Pan-STARRS1 to observe very rare, ephemeral phenomena. An example: With luck, the survey could catch a distant galaxy's central black hole in the act of swallowing a star – an event that leads to an increase in brightness that lasts only a few days. In addition, Pan-STARRS1 astronomers brace for the unexpected. "Whenever astronomers have tried out a new way of looking at the sky, they've been in for surprises," says Prof. Dr. Hans-Walter Rix of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. "Pan-STARRS1 is the first systematic, large-scale survey of time-dependent phenomena in the night sky. If history is any guide, we are bound to find something completely new."

Conceived and designed at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA), the Pan-STARRS1 observatory sits atop the dormant volcano Haleakala but is operated remotely from the Advanced Technology Research Center in Pukalani, Maui. The telescope currently in operation, PanSTARRS1 (PS1) is the prototype whose operation is meant to lead to a larger, more complete survey involving four telescopes of the same type. "PS1 has been taking science-quality data for six months, but now we are doing it dusk-to-dawn every night," says Dr. Nick Kaiser, the IfA scientist who is the principal investigator of the Pan-STARRS project. This marks the transition from the telescope's commissioning and testing phase to science operations.

With a 1.8-meter primary mirror, the PS1 telescope is modest in size – at least by the standards of modern professional astronomy. But PS1 has unique properties, namely an extraordinary field of view more than thirty times the size of the full moon. Mounted on the back of the telescope is the 1.4-Gigapixel camera (which is about the size of a telephone booth) that makes PS1 the world’s most powerful survey telescope.

Now that the PS1 telescope has started to take data, the observatory will produce several Petabytes of data over the next years, enough to fill on the order of 1000 DVDs every night. To master this relentless stream of data, a new Pan-STARRS1 computer cluster was built at the Garching computer centre. With 150 TB of storage space on hard disc for rapid data reduction and analysis, long-term storage on magnetic tapes, and 700 CPUs, this new cluster is hard at work churning through the first Pan-STARRS1 survey data. The analysis employs custom-made software that enables astronomers to automate the first steps in the classification of the astronomical objects observed, providing automatic measurements of key properties such as the temperature and metallicity of stars, or the redshift of distant objects.

Contact

Dr. Bertrand Goldman
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Tel.: +49 6221 528 401
email: goldman@mpia.de
Dr. Markus Pössel (Public relations)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Tel.: +49 6221 528 261
email: poessel@mpia.de
Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle (Public relations)
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching
Tel.: +49 89 30000-3980
email: hannelore.haemmerle@mpe.mpg.de
Dr. Roberto Saglia
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching
Tel.: +49 89 30000-3916
email: saglia@mpe.mpg.de
Dr. Klaus Jäger
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Tel.: +49 6221 528 379
email: jaeger@mpia.de
Dipl.-Phys. Axel Quetz
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Tel.: +49 6221 528 237
email: quetz@mpia.de

Dr. Markus Pössel | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpia.de

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>