Clear images of starburst galaxies reveal new picture of early universe

May 28th, 2009 - 2:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 28 (ANI): A telescope designed by a University of Miami physicist and an international team of collaborators has produced the clearest images of starburst galaxies, revealing a new picture of the universe in its early stages.

The innovative new telescope, called BLAST (Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope), was built by an international research team, which included Joshua Gundersen, University of Miami professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The team launched the telescope to the edge of the atmosphere, where it discovered previously unidentified dust-obscured, star-forming galaxies that could help illuminate the origins of the universe.

“BLAST has given us a unique picture into the development of other galaxies and the earliest stages of star formation of our own Milky Way,” Gundersen explained.

“The light we’re getting from these submillimeter galaxies is from a time when they were first forming. In a sense, it’s like getting a baby picture,” he added.

The data analyzed over the past two years reveals close to a thousand of these “starburst” galaxies that lie five to ten billion light years from Earth, produce stars at an incredible rate, and hide about half of the starlight in the cosmos.

Until BLAST came along, most of the galaxies in the universe have been detected at optical wavelengths visible to the naked eye.

The “starburst” galaxies identified by Gundersen and his colleagues however are a new class of galaxies, enshrouded by dust that absorbs most of their starlight and then re-emits it at far-infrared wavelengths.

During an 11-day flight in 2006, the telescope, while tethered to a balloon 120,000 feet above Antarctica, took measurements in three different submillimeter wavelengths that are nearly impossible to observe from the ground.

“By going to balloon altitudes, we got a nice, crystal-clear picture of these things,” Gundersen said. “It is these far-infrared and submillimeter wavelengths that we’re able to detect with BLAST,” Gundersen explained.

The data from BLAST is being combined with information from other NASA observatories like the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, helping astronomers and cosmologists to better understand the evolutionary history of these “starburst” galaxies and how they may be associated with larger-scale structures in the universe. (ANI)

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