Astronomers at the Gemini telescope in Hawaii have obtained a complete, multi-dimensional picture, of the dynamic flow of gas and stars at the core of an active galaxy [NGC 1068] located 70 million light years away. The image was achieved in a single snapshot and is the first time such a picture has been obtained by one of the new generation of giant telescopes with an 8 - 10 metre light collecting mirror. The astronomers used a new instrument - the Integral Field Unit (IFU), designed and built at Durham University - fitted to the telescope`s multi-object spectrograph to image the violent galaxy. The resulting data has been transformed into an animation that dramatically reveals the internal dynamics of the galaxy - including the interactions of a pair of galactic-scale jets that spew material for thousands of light years away from a suspected black hole at the galaxy`s core.
"We are very excited by these results and the superb capabilities that the IFU has added to the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS)", commented Dr. Jeremy Allington-Smith, from Durham University, who was responsible for the overall design and construction of the GMOS Integral Field Unit. " In effect we have added an extra dimension to the main instrument so that it can physically map the motion of gas and stars at any point in the image of the object under study. So far we have used it to map the motion of gas within the nucleus of a powerful active galaxy, NGC1068, and the orbits of stars within more normal galaxies, but it can also be used to study regions within our own galaxy where stars are being formed."
The IFU instrument uses hundreds of tiny optical fibres, each thinner than a human hair, with tiny micro-lenses attached to the end to guide light from the telescope`s two dimensional image to a spectrograph. The spectrograph produces one individual spectrum for each fibre, a total of 1500 individual spectra, that can each reveal details of the physical conditions and velocity of the gas, dust and stars that it observes. This technology is new to the world of 8 -10 metre class telescopes and is particularly powerful when combined with an advanced telescope like Gemini which has 10 times the light collecting power of the Hubble Space Telescope and uses sophisticated optical technologies to focus starlight to razor sharpness.
Gill Ormrod | alphagalileo
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