Mapping The Skies In 3D Gets Help From University Of Colorado
June 26, 2013

Mapping The Skies In 3D Gets Help From University Of Colorado

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The University of Colorado has announced it is becoming a full partner of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-IV (SDSS-IV), looking to help in efforts to map the entire sky in three dimensions.

The program began in 2000 and has currently mapped about 50 percent of the visible northern sky in three dimensions. In the process of creating this map, the project has identified almost 500 million astronomical objects, including asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars.

“We got into this because we think it is going to be a great recruitment tool for new students, and we have one of the best undergraduate majors in the country,” said Michael Shull of CU-Boulder’s astrophysical and planetary sciences department. “We also want to recruit high-caliber graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.”

Shull said he expects to be particularly focused on identifying distant quasars from the early universe. He added that the SDSS-IV is also likely to discover new information on “dark energy,” a theoretical form of energy that can act in opposition to gravity.

The project utilizes telescopes at the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico to search for and analyze celestial objects. Light from the telescopes is analyzed by a pair of spectrographs that separate the light into a spectrum of colors; each color wavelength revealing specific information about the size, temperature, composition and motion of identified objects.

An infrared survey of the sky is expected to probe distant stars and learn more about the formation of the Milky Way and two of its companions, the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud, Shull said. To get the best view of two Magellanic Clouds, the project scientists said they are working on collaborating with a team of astronomers who are using the 8.2-feet du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas, Chile, as the galaxies are best seen from below the equator.

Besides the two Magellanic Clouds, the SDSS-IV astronomers said they will also be looking at the internal composition of about 10,000 nearby galaxies, including their chemical environment and the exact velocities of their stars.

Overall, the project is expected to compliment the efforts of two recently completed American telescopes: the ALMA millimeter and submillimeter array radio telescope in Chile and the Expanded-Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico.

“I think this is going to be a perfect way for undergraduates to get their hands dirty working with ‘big data,’" said Shull. “A lot of undergraduates are better at computers than we are, so hiring a freshman or a sophomore who really wants to get into computing and big data sets in the field of astronomy is one of our goals.”

The SDSS project also has a history of citizen science involvement dating back to 2007, when the general public was asked to help classify millions of galaxies from publicly released data into three categories: elliptical galaxies, merging galaxies and spiral galaxies. Within an hour of the data being released, SDSS scientists received 70,000 classifications. During the first year, the number grew to over 50 million galaxy classifications made by more than 150,000 people.