Astronomers launch supercomputing images to track galaxies

Image copyright Emmanuel S. Valleve / Santiago, Chile Image caption The Andes range between 2,481m and 5,279m above sea level in Chile

If you have been stuck indoors on a cold day this year, or still trying to work out what the Met Office weather forecast means, you have probably been in good company.

Well, don’t get too scared, but astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile have launched a new site that, from Friday, will let you trawl through the solar system’s nearest neighbours.

The new site is launched after an eight-year project with a team from the University of California, San Diego.

Together they hope it will help bring astronomers closer to understanding the nature of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

To make the telescope, they have installed a laser sensitive antenna at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory.

Sophisticated laser technology and the materials used by astronomers in space will be used to distinguish between stars and planets and, by doing so, learn more about what the system is made of.

Image copyright Emmanuel S. Valleve / Santiago, Chile Image caption The array of transmitters will help reveal new about solar system neighbours, like the NGC 5461 star, with its large body known as a star-forming region

It will simultaneously provide a data feed for the ESO – which has five other telescopes at other locations – and a more detailed one for NASA, whose Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) is on the site.

Alongside the telescope, astronomers have launched the Atacama Seismic Network, which will collect seismic data.

This will be used by scientists from around the world, together with the Optical Gravitational Waves Observatory (OGWO), an international instrument which detects the slow transmission of gravitational waves in interstellar space.

The project comprises 50 months of operation, of which they intend to carry out 100,000 observations over the next four years.

But the work could go on for even longer, with the ESO speculating that it could see 100,000 observations in 2040.

ESO president André Risøaume says the public can expect a rich data set.

“We will be able to access hundreds of thousands of galaxies using multiple telescopes, and the data will be widely distributed and available to telescopes around the world for research purposes,” he said.

Image copyright Emmanuel S. Valleve / Santiago, Chile Image caption The telescope has been fitted with a laser sensitive antenna and an array of receivers

Space scientist Taryn Prockter, from the University of California, San Diego, added: “As astronomers we gain new clues about the nature of galaxies, stars and planets and we have many similar projects taking place around the world.”

“We get data, and as scientists we take data.”

“We have each data from the five different telescopes scattered around Earth – and we have another data that was brought into us.”

The Atacama Seismic Network will help researchers uncover life in distant galaxies and also learn more about dark energy – the mysterious force thought to be responsible for sweeping away matter.

Earth’s oceans contain liquid water – the prerequisite for life as we know it. But life as we know it, life in microgravity and other harsh environments are yet to be discovered.

ESO astronomers will soon deploy another high-powered camera to the right of the Atacama image capture telescope, to take images that will be streamed simultaneously to observatories around the world.

The goal is to provide a high-resolution map of galaxies and other sky objects and to open up their components, such as stars and galaxies, in a more meaningful way.

They aim to shed light on the history of the universe and the Universe’s expansion and shed light on the creation of supermassive black holes and the “God particle”, called the Higgs boson.

The Keck Observatory in Hawaii is already streaming data, but because the Atacama site is still in its early stages, they have limited scope for analysis.

They also hope that the library of data will help track changes in the universe.

“But eventually we may be able to see spectroscopic changes in astronomical elements. Every time we look at this data from this site, we will be able to see some of the subtle, beautiful changes,” said space scientist Dereck Muxlow from the University of Chicago.

“That’s the hope and the hope of these telescopes: that you can look through this catalogue of data and find this amazing, amazing stuff out in space,” he added.

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