Seven years of meticulous observing have resulted in a cosmic discovery that comes from an era dating back 13.1 billion years, giving scientists a detailed glimpse of what may have happened just after the Big Bang.
Using the world-class W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, an international team of astronomers from the United States, Australia, and Europe has confirmed the existence of one of the most distant galaxies in the universe.
To characterize the faint galaxy, the discovery team, led by Austin Hoag, a University of California, Davis physics graduate student, used MOSFIRE, the most in-demand instrument on the 10-meter Keck I telescope.
What makes this galaxy extraordinary is that it is ordinary. It is thought to be a common galaxy at that distance and age of the universe. However, such galaxies would normally be too faint to detect. The astronomers used a method called gravitational lensing to magnify the galaxy so they could study it.
“Most objects that we’ve seen at that distance are extremely bright, and probably rare compared to other galaxies,” said Hoag. “We think this galaxy is much more representative of other galaxies of its time.”
W. M. Keck Observatory overnight captured the very first successful science data from its newest, cutting-edge instrument, the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KCWI).
KCWI captures three-dimensional data, as opposed to the traditional two-dimensional image or spectrum of conventional instruments. In a single observation, it records an image of the object at multiple wavelengths allowing scientists to explore both the spatial dimension (as in an image) and the spectral dimension (or color) of an object.
“I’m thrilled to see this new instrument,” said Keck Observatory Director Hilton Lewis. “It takes years to design and build these very sophisticated instruments. KCWI is a superb example of the application of the most advanced technology to enable the hardest science. I believe it has the potential to transform the science that we do, and continue to keep Keck Observatory right at the forefront of astronomical research.”
KCWI is extremely sensitive, specifically designed to capture high-resolution spectra of ultra-faint celestial bodies with unprecedented detail. It is able to differentiate even the slightest changes in spectral color with a great degree of accuracy.
This powerful capability is key for astronomers because a highly-detailed spectral image allows them to identify a cosmic object’s characteristics, including its temperature, motion, density, mass, distance, chemical composition, and more.
An international team of astronomers has, for the first time, spotted a massive, inactive galaxy from a time when the Universe was only 1.65 billion years old. This rare discovery, made using the world-class W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, could change the way scientists think about the evolution of galaxies.
This research publishes today in the journal Nature, with Professor Karl Glazebrook, director of Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing , as the lead author. To characterize the faint galaxy, the discovery team used MOSFIRE, the most in-demand instrument on the 10-meter Keck I telescope.
“This observation was only possible due to the extreme sensitivity of the new MOSFIRE spectrograph,” said Glazebrook. “It is the absolute best in the world for faint near-IR spectra by a wide margin. Our team is indebted to the accomplishment of Chuck Steidel, Ian McClean, and all the Keck Observatory staff for building and delivering this remarkable instrument.”
Astronomers expect most galaxies from this epoch to be low-mass minnows, busily forming stars. However, this galaxy is ‘a monster’ and inactive.
Often you just need to take note of the small scenes that make up daily life. Over the years I have made an effort to photograph these scenes, there is so much richness in our everyday existence that too many do not notice…
A pile of power drills await use on a shelf in the supply room
A handheld radio used at Keck for daily communication.
A pile of 3/8″ air hose in the supply room
Bins of bolts in the Keck supply room
A dense bit of temporary wiring in the Keck 2 SAA cabinet
An assortment of cable pass through the Keck 2 telescope elevation cable wrap
A Keck primary mirror segment jacked up out of the array
Spools of wire await use in the electronics shop
The facility cooling lines that supply cold water to the K2AO electronics vault.
A collection of keys
The usual mess littering a workbench in the Keck summit electronics lab in the midst of a project
An electrician’s tool bag, complete with lockout tag
Fuses, relays, and contactors in the Keck 2 telescope control system
Patching in an experimental control system to move the Keck 1 telescope, one step closer to a major upgrade.
A section of the whiffle tree that supports each Keck primary segment
The control panel for the telescope hydraulic bearing system pumps
Analog ammeters indicate the motor current
The transformers for the Keck 2 telescope servo drives
A tangle of cables for the Keck 2 optical bench subsystem
A bank of relays form the safety interlock system for the telescope.
Racks of wire available for use in the Keck summit electronics lab
A scatter of tools at CSO
Tools and drawing lay on the table in the welding shop
A distribution video amplifier built around a THS7324
A tiny portion of the extensive cabling that connects the various elements of the Keck Interferometer
A set of tools ready for use on the Keck 1 nasmyth deck
A sample of the control wiring and circuitry in the Servo Amplifier Assembly
Looking at the back of a segment with the radial support removed
A row of circuit breakers in the Keck 2 computer room
Multiple cables enter the Keck 2 Adaptive Optics bench.
Electronics test leads and patch cables hanging from the rack in the Keck summit electronics lab
I/O cards and field wiring in the Keck 2 local controls PLC
The many cables needed to operate the Keck 2 telescope thread through the azimuth wrap.
Part of the Keck 2 logic board, this PCB assembly controls the various control and safety logic for the Keck 2 telescope.
The new telescope control system servers take up much of a rack
Bins full of stainless steel machine screws in the supply room
The Nasmyth Deck tool set in the Keck 2 dome
Hard hats ready for use just outside the Keck 1 dome
Across the room from my desk is a large cabinet full of blueprints and sepia prints. Stacks of large prints that represent the original drawings from which the W. M. Keck Observatory was constructed. Floor plans, foundation plans, the structural steel of the telescope itself.
The prints are in many ways works of art. Often drawn by hand these old prints represent a lost skill, the art of the draughtsman from before computers irreversibly changed the profession. Impeccably neat lettering, an arcane menagerie of symbols, coded shading to represent different materials, it takes time just to learn to read these drawings properly.
When 700 tons of steel and aluminum just keeps going when it is commanded to stop people tend to notice. When you let up on the switch it is supposed to stop, when that something is the Keck 1 telescope dome it gets interesting.
The first I knew about it was from John, our summit supervisor on the phone. Actually he had several folks on his end using the speakerphone, never a good sign when a phone call from the summit starts this way.
Three people describing a problem on the phone is a bit confusing, it takes a few minutes, and a few questions before I have a clear idea of what happened. Basically the dome did not stop when commanded to while they were operating with the radio controller, a bit of kit we call Capt. Marvel.
Of course a few minutes later our safety officer walks into my office… I wonder what she wants to talk about?
A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet – an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests.
Astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015. Through NASA’s partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion – or closest point to the sun.
Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology observed the comet C/2014 Q2 – also called Lovejoy – and made simultaneous measurements of the output of H2O and HDO, a variant form of water. This image of Lovejoy was taken on Feb. 4, 2015 – the same day the team made their observations and just a few days after the comet passed its perihelion, or closest point to the sun.