British astronomers today (June 24th) saw the first images from an ambitious new programme of discovery, the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS). The survey will scour the sky with the world’s most powerful infrared survey camera ( WFCAM) to find some of the dimmest and most distant objects in the Universe. UKIDSS will reach at least twenty times deeper than the largest current survey conducted at this wavelength. Infrared light can be used to study objects that are not hot enough to show up in visible light, such as failed stars in our own Galaxy, as well as objects like distant quasars that are so far away that the expansion of the Universe has shifted their light into the infrared spectrum. UKIDSS will help to solve existing astronomical conundrums, such as when galaxies and quasars first lit up, and will certainly also discover new phenomena, because of the large area and depth.
WFCAM, the Wide Field Camera, was built at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC) in Edinburgh, and is mounted on the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii. The new images confirm the power of the camera. The strength of WFCAM comes from the large field of view, equivalent to imaging the full moon in a single exposure, made possible because the camera contains four of the largest available new-generation infrared detectors.
"WFCAM is enormously powerful. We will have surpassed the size of the current best survey after just 2 weeks, and our plan is a survey 100 times greater. It’s about exploring new territory, and we hope to discover new phenomena. In the US they have had tremendous success with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at visible wavelengths. Now we urgently need a new detailed survey to complement Sloan beyond the visible, in the infrared." said Steve Warren, UKIDSS Survey Scientist from Imperial College.
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