UK Will Build an Intergalactic GPS System to Map the Milky Way
Scientists from the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) have received the green light to start work on a high-powered spectrograph that will allow them to build a 3-D map of the entire galaxy.
The instrument, called MOONS (Multi-Object Optical and Near-infrared Spectrograph), will use the colors emitted by stellar objects in order to gauge their position, but also their chemical composition, mass, speed, and more. And the fiber-optic cables that communicate the external light stimulus to the instrument will move into position much faster than current spectrographs, which will allow it to observe 1,000 objects simultaneously. It will be approximately as large as a van and will take 200 person-years to build.
"The team at UK ATC in Scotland have an opportunity with this project to enable all of us to understand why the Milky Way looks the way it does," said Professor Gillian Wright, director of the UK ATC. This instrument will act as an intergalactic GPS to help us to navigate through the billions of stars in our galaxy and create a comprehensive map of its structure."
This device will not only allow the project scientists to map the Milky Way, but will also open new avenues into research on the properties of galaxies and galaxy evolution. Professor Roberto Maiolino from the University of Cambridge stated, "MOONS will vastly expand our knowledge of the mechanisms responsible for galaxy evolution across the life of the Universe. It will be possible to characterize the properties of millions of distant galaxies – for instance, by identifying the signatures of ongoing star formation and black hole accretion – and how galaxies' evolution depends on their large-scale environment."