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RAS PN 08/30 (NAM 21): WITNESSING THE FORMATION OF DISTANT GALAXIES

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2008 11:19
Published on Friday, 04 April 2008 00:00
UK astronomers have produced the most sensitive infrared map of the distant Universe ever undertaken. Combining data over a period of three years, they have produced an image containing over 100,000 galaxies over an area four times the size of the full Moon. Some of the first results from this project will be presented by Dr Sebastien Foucaud from the University of Nottingham on Friday 4th April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast.

Due to the finite speed of light, these observations allow astronomers to look back in time over 10 billion years, producing images of galaxies in the Universe's infancy. The image is so large and so deep that thousands of galaxies can be studied at these early epochs for the first time. By observing in the infrared, astronomers can now peer further back in time, since light from the most distant galaxies is shifted towards redder wavelengths as it travels through the expanding Universe.

"I would compare these observations to the ice cores drilled deep into the Antarctic," said Dr Foucaud. "Just as they allow us to peer back in time, our ultra-deep image allows us to look back and observe galaxies evolving at different stages in cosmic history, all the way back to just 1 billion years after the Big Bang".

One of the key aims is to understand when the rarest, most massive galaxies form in the distant Universe, which is a long-standing unsolved problem in astronomy. "We see galaxies 10 times the mass of the Milky Way already in place at very early epochs. Now, for the first time, we are sampling a large enough volume of the distant Universe to be able to see them in sufficient numbers and really pin down when they were formed."

The image was obtained using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii. The results presented today form part of the Ultra-Deep Survey (UDS), led by Dr Omar Almaini at the University of Nottingham. The UDS is one element of a five-part project, the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey, which commenced in 2005. Professor Andy Lawrence, Principle Investigator of UKIDSS from the University of Edinburgh, said "As we keep taking images over the next few years, we will see ever more distant galaxies."


Caption: "Zooming into a small fraction of the UKIDSS UDS field, the deepest infrared image ever obtained over such a large area. The zoom shows a relatively nearby spiral galaxy. Many of the faint red objects in the background are massive galaxies at distances of over 10 billion light
years".

LINKS

The UKIDSS Ultra-Deep Survey:
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/UDS/



Nottingham Astronomy group:
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/

NOTES FOR EDITORS

RAS NATIONAL ASTRONOMY MEETING
The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen’s University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the STFC. NAM 2008 is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.

UKIRT
The world's largest telescope dedicated solely to infrared astronomy, the 3.8-metre (12.5-foot) UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT), is sited near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at an altitude of 4194 metres (13760 feet) above sea level. It is operated by the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii, on behalf of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.
Further information about the UK Infrared Telescope: http://outreach.jach.hawaii.edu/articles/aboutukirt/

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FACILITIES COUNCIL
The Science and Technology Facilities Council is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Office of Science and Innovation which itself is part of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. It was formed as a new Research Council on 1 April 2007 through a merger of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the transfer of responsibility for nuclear physics from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It is one of seven national research councils in the UK.

CONTACTS

Dr Sebastien Foucaud
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RD
Tel: (+44) (0) 115 846 8857     
Fax: (+44) (0) 115 846 6070           
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

Dr. Omar Almaini
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RD
Tel: (+44) (0) 115 846 79 01
Fax: (+44) (0) 115 846 60 70
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Prof. Andy Lawrence
Institute for Astronomy
Royal Observatory
Blackford Hill
Edinburgh EH9 3HJ
Phone: +44 (0)131 668 8346 (direct);
E-mail : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.