Looking into the hearts of galaxies - Halifax researchers are working on deep space telescope
A $13-million project involving eight Canadian universities and the National Research Council will allow researchers to look into the heart of galaxies billions of light-years away. The Halifax researchers involved, Marcin Sawicki, Canada research chair in astronomy at Saint Mary’s University and Scott Chapman, a professor in Dalhousie’s faculty of science (co-leader of GIRMOS with faculty at the University of Toronto) will help build the instrument, the GIRMOS spectrograph. It will combine existing technologies into a powerful and efficient galactic probe.
Saint Mary’s scientists will create data-processing and simulation software that will be crucial to the operation of the Gemini InfraRed Multi-Object Spectrograph. GIRMOS will be a souped-up infrared spectrograph with “adaptive optics” technology, which compensates for distortions in the Earth’s atmosphere to create a sharper image. This component of the spectrograph, will be developed by scientists at Dalhousie.
The software to be developed at Saint Mary’s will be able to answer questions about what astronomers will see before they actually use the spectrograph, which will be attached to the eight-metre Gemini telescope in Chile. The data streaming through the spectrograph and telescopic optical system ends up on a detector similar to the one in cellphone cameras. Collected in the form of binary data — zeros and ones — it must be translated into a visible image and Saint Mary’s researchers will create data-processing software to perform that crucial task.
Currently, in the planning stages, the work on the project will begin in early 2018 and over the next five years, the various sites will work on their part of the project, collaborating through video conferences and annual face-to-face meetings. Saint Mary’s will dedicate one full-time researcher to the work, who will be supported by graduate and undergraduate students. The university will receive $300,000, shared by the federal government and the Nova Scotia government.
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