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UKIRT's Galaxies: A View For The Season
by Staff Writers
Mauna Kea HI (SPX) Dec 18, 2008

Galaxies in the UKIDSS UDS pencil beam survey displayed on the Imiloa planetarium dome against the microwave background radiation.

When observatories and planetaria get together to share discoveries, magic will happen. What starts out as many tiny astronomical images with location coordinates can become an amazing learning tool for astronomers and the public.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i is currently engaged in the most ambitious infrared sky survey ever undertaken, the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS).

For the past three years UKIRT has been systematically scanning the heavens for five different "colours" of faint infrared light. This survey is scheduled to continue for another four years.

As part of this survey, UKIRT is looking for very far away faint galaxies. The expansion of the Universe stretches visible light from the most distant (and youngest) galaxies and quasars into the infrared part of the spectrum, and by observing this infrared light we can trace the evolution of galaxies from their youngest members.

To share these results with the scientific community and the public, the UKIRT astronomers have been working with the planetarium at the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawai'i, to display them in 3-D.

This planetarium offers the world's first full-dome 3-D stereoscopic presentation of astronomical data, which presents a powerful tool to visualize and share discoveries.

The image below shows data from the UKIDSS Ultra-Deep Survey (UDS) displayed on 'Imiloa's planetarium dome. The cosmic background radiation is displayed behind it. This data has to date generated almost 60,000 distance measurements for these far-away galaxies.

As the UKIDSS survey continues, more data will be added. The long pencil beam in the picture shows the galaxies at their relative distances in this field. Given the 3-D nature of the data, the planetarium's software allows us to fly along and through this field of galaxies.

Flying "back home" through these tens of thousands of galaxies is a beautiful experience, and it gives us a measure of how much there is to be explored in our Universe.


Related Links
United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT)
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