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Astronomers receive grant to explore the sky


Astronomers from the universities of Hertfordshire and Kent have received a grant which will allow them to map large areas of the sky 1000 times faster than with current technology.

The universities, in conjunction with the University of British Columbia and the Joint Astronomy Centre, have been awarded 1,500 hours of observation and survey time on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) at the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii. The award, which is part of the JCMT Major Legacy Surveys, has been valued by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) at £2.1 million.

The study, which will begin in 2006 and end in 2011 and is known as SASSy (SCUBA-2 All-Sky Survey), intends to search a large fraction of the sky for unknown and invisible star-forming clouds and galaxies. A new £12 million SCUBA-2 camera within the telescope will allow the academics to access the cold hidden universe of distant dusty star-forming galaxies and nearby cold star-forming clouds.

The Hertfordshire team will lead the galactic (Milky Way) part of the survey, while those from Kent will lead the extragalactic (beyond the Milky Way) exploration.

Dr Mark Thompson from the Centre for Astrophysics Research at the University of Hertfordshire commented: “SCUBA-2 works in the sub-millimetre range of the spectrum and picks out objects that are not usually seen by optical telescopes. What this means is that for the first time we have a camera that can find practically all of the star-forming regions within our own Galaxy by imaging most of the entire sky."

Dr Stephen Serjeant from the Centre of Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the University of Kent added: “I have always been interested in the most extreme, most luminous galaxies in the Universe, but finding them is difficult, because they are very rare and often very distant. The SCUBA-2 instrument can find these galaxies almost all the way back to the Big Bang. Our enormous survey with the JCMT will map most of the northern sky, and look back through almost all the history of the Universe to find them.”

Helene Murphy | alfa
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