Breakthrough Telescope Camera Sees More Star Detail

New instrument installed on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile serves astronomers studying earliest phases of star formation.
NASA's LADEE Moon Mission: 5 Goals
NASA's LADEE Moon Mission: 5 Goals
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Astronomers are starting to peer more deeply into the universe with a new instrument called Artemis, which has been successfully installed on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope located in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Artemis is a new wide-field submillimeter-wavelength camera that has been added to the telescope's instrument payload. It gives scientists the ability to sample different wavelengths on three different focal planes simultaneously and create a single image. This capability lets it act more like a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera than the older generation of detectors, increasing the depth and detail of the telescope's observations, according to project officials.

The APEX telescope operates between infrared light and radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, using a 12-meter antennae, and is an important tool for submillimeter astronomy, a relatively unexplored frontier. Among its instruments is the Large APEX Bolometer Camera (LABOCA), which uses sensitive thermometers to detect submillimeter light.

[ How many of our everyday technologies come from outer space? Read 10 Space Technologies That Help On Earth. ]

Located on one of the highest observatory sites on Earth, APEX is a collaborative project involving the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Germany, the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) in Sweden, and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany. The Artemis instrument was built by CEA-Saclay in France.

The instrument's initial observations centered on the star formation known as the Cat's Paw Nebula. The image Artemis produced was of significantly better quality than earlier APEX images of the same region, giving scientists a sampling of the camera's capabilities.

The project will continue to concentrate on the development of technologies for submillimeter astronomy, focusing mainly on the earliest phases of star formation.

In a separate announcement on Tuesday, NASA said astronomers using its Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory space telescope, and ground-based telescopes found evidence for the densest nearby galaxy in our part of the universe. Known as M60-UCD1, the dwarf galaxy is packed with an unusual number of stars, which makes astronomers believe that it played a significant role in the galactic evolutionary chain.

Advanced ground-based telescopes contributed to the discovery. The W.M. Keck Observatory telescope in Hawaii found that the M60-UCD1 is the most luminous galaxy of its type and is also one of the most massive, weighing 200 million times more than the sun. Also, the Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona was used to study the elements in the galaxy's stars. Astronomers found the values to be similar to the sun.

NASA's other major observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, include the Spitzer Space Telescope and the now deorbited Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.