A major breakthrough in pinpointing some of the most primordial and violently star forming galaxies in the Universe has been made by a joint collaboration of UK and US astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope to resolve primordial galaxies initially detected by the James Clerk Maxwell telescope [JCMT]. UK astronomers from the University of Kent, The Royal Observatory Edinburgh and the University of Oxford teamed up with American cosmologists to finally identify these elusive galaxies. The work will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Spitzer Special Issue in September 2004.
Back in 1995, the UKs SCUBA camera (Sub-millimetre Common User Bolometer Array) on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, which detects light with wavelengths just under a millimetre, began finding fuzzy traces of very distant, primordial galaxies. Some of these are either too distant or too dusty to be seen even by the Hubble Space Telescope. But SCUBAs images on their own, and those of other similar cameras, are not fine enough: within the fuzzy SCUBA detections are sometimes many galaxies. So astronomers have spent enormous effort following up these SCUBA galaxies on other telescopes, particularly radio telescopes, to answer the question: which one is the primordial galaxy, and which ones are in the foreground? But even with the most sensitive radio telescope images ever made, only around half the SCUBA galaxies can be pinpointed unambiguously. Even worse, the radio telescopes miss all of the most distant and most primordial of SCUBAs galaxies.
UK and US astronomers teamed up to combine Spitzers sharp images with SCUBAs ability to find primordial galaxies. The team were stunned to find all the SCUBA galaxies in Spitzer’s field of view detected in only ten minutes with Spitzer. These breakthrough observations, described as a ‘watershed’ by the team, finally give astronomers a way of unambiguously pinpointing even the most distant of SCUBAs galaxies. This could only be done by combining SCUBA with the Spitzer Space Telescope: SCUBA shows there is a primordial, violent starburst somewhere in the vicinity, which is then pinpointed by Spitzer.
Karen Baxter | alfa
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