Cat's Paw Nebula Viewed In High Detail With New Instrument
September 25, 2013

Cat’s Paw Nebula Viewed In High Detail With New Instrument

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new, powerful viewing instrument installed on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) has already given astronomers a detailed view of the Cat's Paw Nebula.

The ArTeMiS is a new wide-field submillimeter-wavelength camera that will further increase the depth and detail that APEX can observe. The new instrument's detector acts more like a CCD camera than the previous generation of detectors, which will allow it to map the sky faster and with more pixels. ArTeMiS, in French, stands for Bolometer arrays for wide-field submillimetre ground-based telescopes.

Installing ArTeMiS was no easy task because the team had to fight extreme weather conditions. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) said that very heavy snow on the Chajnantor Plateau almost buried the APEX control building.

"With help from staff at the ALMA Operations Support Facility and APEX, the team transported the ArTeMiS boxes to the telescope via a makeshift road, avoiding the snowdrifts, and were able to install the instrument, maneuver the cryostat into position, and attach it in its final location," ESO said in a statement.

The team waited for dryer weather in order to test the instrument because the submillimeter-wavelengths of light in which ArTeMiS makes observations are largely absorbed by water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere.

"But, when the time came, successful test observations were made. Following the tests and commissioning observations, ArTeMiS has already been used for several scientific projects," ESO said.

The new image of the Cat's Paw Nebula, which sits in the southern constellation of Scorpius, is significantly better than earlier APEX images of the same region. The picture shows the glow detected at a wavelength of 0.35 millimeters coming from dense clouds of interstellar dust grains. The new ArTeMiS observations show up in orange and have been superimposed on a view of the same region taken in near-infrared light by the VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory.

The Cat's Paw Nebula is very faint to the unaided eye, so astronomers need a newer telescope like APEX to observe it. APEX is a collaboration among the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and ESO.

Now that testing is complete, ArTeMiS will be returning to Saclay in France in order to install additional detectors. ESO said the whole team is excited by the results from these initial observations.