NASA Frontier Fields Mission To Conduct Deepest Ever Probe Of The Universe
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
In an ambitious new project, NASA officials are looking to combine three of the agency’s most powerful space telescopes in what is being called the deepest probe of the universe ever attempted.
The mission, which has been dubbed “The Frontier Fields,” will feature the Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and is scheduled to last over the next three years. During that time, NASA experts are hoping to gain a boost from naturally occurring “zoom lenses” in space in order to locate galaxies up to 100 times fainter than could typically be detected by any of the three observatories.
As the US space agency explained in a statement Wednesday, during the forthcoming mission, “astronomers will make observations… peering at six massive clusters of galaxies, exploiting a natural phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, to learn not only what is inside the clusters but also what is beyond them. The clusters are among the most massive assemblages of matter known, and their gravitational fields can be used to brighten and magnify more distant galaxies so they can be observed.”
“The Frontier Fields program is exactly what NASA’s great observatories were designed to do; working together to unravel the mysteries of the Universe,” added John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Each observatory collects images using different wavelengths of light with the result that we get a much deeper understanding of the underlying physics of these celestial objects.”
The project’s first target will be Abell 2744, the giant galaxy cluster also known as Pandora’s Cluster. Abell 2744 appears to have been formed following a collision of at least four separate, smaller galaxy clusters that look place over a 350 million year span. NASA officials believe that the observations of this cluster will reveal never-before-seen galaxies that existed when the universe was just a few hundred million years old.
According to Jennifer Lotz, a principal investigator with the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, the plan is to use the natural telescopes found in space with their own man-made observatories in order to look far deeper than was previously possible.
Ideally, they hope that they will be able to uncover the faintest and most distant galaxies ever located. Data from Hubble and Spitzer will be combined to measure the distances and masses of any galaxies more accurately than either telescope would be capable of working alone.
Chandra, meanwhile, will image clusters at X-ray wavelengths to help determine their mass, measure their gravitational lensing power, and find background galaxies that host supermassive black holes. Hubble will also provide high-resolution data to detail dark matter distribution in the six massive foreground clusters.
“We want to understand when and how the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe, and each great observatory gives us a different piece of the puzzle,” said Peter Capak, Spitzer principal investigator for the Frontier Fields program. “Hubble tells you which galaxies to look at and how many stars are being born in those systems. Spitzer tells you how old the galaxy is and how many stars have formed.”