New equipment could answer questions of the universe

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DURHAM University is taking the lead on equipment which could answer some key questions of the universe.

The KMOS (K-Band Multi Object Spectrometer) has been partly manufactured by the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation at the Netpark Research Institute, near Sedgefield, County Durham, and could help answer questions about the beginnings of the universe and the formation of its stars and galaxies.

After assembly and testing at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, KMOS has gone to South America where to be fitted to one of the four telescopes which make up the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO-VLT) at Chile, providing astronomers with a far quicker solution to uncover details about galaxies and their properties.

Principle investigator Professor Ray Sharples, of Durham University’s Department of Physics, said: “The university is proud to be participating in this cutting edge technology international project together with our UK and German partners, which will be the first UK-led common user instrument for the ESO-VLT.

“The instrument will provide a uniquely powerful tool for studying the formation and evolution of galaxies like our own Milky Way and is eagerly anticipated by observational cosmologists working both in Durham and Europe.”

What makes KMOS unique is its ability to image many galaxies simultaneously.

“Until now, each galaxy has had to be identified individually to obtain that information, a process that takes years. KMOS will be able to see the same amount of detail in just two months.

Each of its 24 cryogenic robotic arms is moved into position to pinpoint, with extreme accuracy, the light coming from distant galaxies.

Dr Michele Cirasuolo, at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, said: “KMOS represents a pivotal step in our quest to scrutinise the distant universe.

The ability to observe in the near-infrared 24 galaxies simultaneously is an enormous leap forward compared to any other current instrument.

“KMOS will allow a much faster survey speed. Most of the observations done by similar near-infrared spectrographs over the last 10 years could be done in just two months with KMOS.”

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