Three small, faint stars, apparently locked in the gravitational embrace of much larger and brighter companions, have been discovered in the first light from a new infrared camera with innovative optics on the 100-inch telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California.
"This is the first time the historic Mount Wilson telescope has looked at the universe through this new infrared eye, and already it is making new discoveries," says Jian Ge, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and leader of the research team, which also developed the infrared camera. The discoveries of the faint stars, to be published in the June issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters and the July issue of the Astronomical Journal, "mark the beginning of a new era in the use of the 100-inch telescope for discovering very interesting faint objects in orbit around brighter stars, such as brown dwarfs, which are neither stars nor planets," says Robert Jastrow, director of the Mount Wilson Institute.
One innovative technique that Ge and his team designed into the new infrared camera is a specially shaped mask they installed over the "pupil" of the cameras eye to allow fainter companions to be seen around bright objects. The shaped pupil mask that Ges team used is an improvement over the circular masks that astronomers have been using to block the light from a bright star in an attempt to see a near-by fainter object, much like the appearance of the corona during a total eclipse of the Sun. The shaped pupil mask is a solid light-blocking circle into which Ge and his team have cut a dozen strategically placed eye-shaped openings. "The image resulting from the first use of the device revealed areas of greater contrast that allowed us to find one of the faint dwarf stars," Ge says. "The technique potentially improves contrast in images by more than tenfold compared to current techniques."
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert
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