Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Maui telescope takes aim at distant galaxy


A distant dying star, discovered thanks to images captured by the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope on Haleakala, has provided scientists with an unprecedented glimpse into a galaxy some 9.5 billion light-years away.

“It’s like someone turned on a flashlight in a dark room and suddenly allowed us to see, for a short time, what this far-off galaxy looks like, what it is composed of,” said Edo Berger, leader of an international research team that used the exploding star’s light as a probe to study gas conditions in the space between the host galaxy’s stars.

Results of the study were published in the Astrophysical Journal. In a news release this week, Berger, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that conditions around the distant galaxy appeared “reassuringly normal” compared to our own corner of space. Berger said the information gleaned from the study will contribute to a better understanding of how galaxies like the Milky Way came to be.

Team members hailed the discovery of the dying star as evidence of the Hawaii-based Pan-STARRS Project’s long-term potential in expanding astronomers’ capabilities.

“Pan-STARRS is pioneering a new era in deep, wide-field, time-critical astronomy,” said John Tonry, a supernovae researcher with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy and one of the study’s authors.

Following the discovery of the dying star, scientists conducted spectroscopic follow-up studies using the Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona. The 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea provided data used by the team to probe the gas of the distant galaxy’s interstellar environment.

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