A New Device Will Look At The Genesis Of The Milky Way
With the use of new technology, scientists have enhanced one of the planet's most powerful telescopes, providing an unparalleled level of insight into the formation of our galaxy.
Until it has recorded five million stars, the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) at La Palma, Spain, will be able to scan 1,000 stars each hour.
Each star's composition and motion will be examined using a super-fast mapping equipment connected to WHT.
It will demonstrate how the Milky Way galaxy evolved over the course of billions of years.
The apparatus, referred to as "Weave," has been developed for more than ten years by Prof. Gavin Dalton of Oxford University. He expressed to me his "beyond excitement" that it is now ready to use.
It took a lot of effort to make this happen, and it's wonderful that it's now operational, he added. The new journey is the next stage, and it's fantastic!
n the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma, where the WHT is perched on a mountain, Weave has been installed.
The moniker WHT Enhanced Area Velocity Explorer accurately describes what the device performs. It is an engineering wonder and contains 80,000 different pieces.
Astronomers can pinpoint the locations of 1,000 stars for every area of the sky that the WHT is aimed at.
Then, Weave's dexterous robotic fingers accurately position a fibre-optic, a light-transmitting tube, pointing in the direction of each star's matching spot on a plate.
These fibers are really very little telescopes. Each of them diverts light from a single star to a different device.
This divides it into a rainbow spectrum, which holds information about the star's history and origin.
All of this is finished in about an hour. On the other side of the plate, which flips over to analyze the next set of targets after the previous survey is finished, are fiber optics for the subsequent thousand stars.
Up to 400 billion stars make up the tight spiral structure of our galaxy. However, it began as a rather modest group of stars.
Over billions of years, it expanded as a result of many mergers with other tiny galaxies. Each merger shakes things up enough to result in brand new star formation in addition to the stars that are added by the new galaxies that join our own.
Weave can produce a motion image of the stars traveling across the Milky Way by calculating the speed, direction, age, and composition of each star it views.
Prof. Dalton asserts that extrapolating backwards will allow for the reconstruction of the Milky Way's whole development in unprecedented detail.
As the Milky Way has grown across cosmic time, "we'll be able to follow the galaxies that have been absorbed and show how each absorption promotes new star formation," he added.
Weave, according to Dr. Marc Balcells, who is in charge of the WHT overall, will cause a significant change in how we see the formation of galaxies, he told BBC News.
We have been told for years that astronomy is in its golden age, but what lies ahead is far more significant.
The issues that Weave will address include how many components join together to construct a large galaxy and how many galaxies were combined to form the Milky Way, which scientists have been attempting to resolve for decades.
Instrumentation expert Dr. Cecilia Farina predicted that Weave will go down in astronomy history.
There will be a huge number of things that we uncover that we did not anticipate to, she said. "Because there are many surprises in the universe."