2MASS twin telescopes bring the stars to earth

July 13, 2000

UMass astronomer is lead researcher on the project AMHERST, Mass. - Amateur stargazers and high-level astronomers alike are now able to view a half-million galaxies and 162 million stars on their home computers, thanks to a massive release of images from an infrared sky survey. University of Massachusetts astronomer Michael Skrutskie is lead investigator for the project, which is sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

"Any computer with a Web browser can be transformed into a desktop observatory," said Skrutskie. The 1.9 million images would fill 6,000 CD-ROMs, equivalent to 4,000 gigabytes or four terabytes of computer hard-disk space.

"The general public can see a menagerie of objects in infrared wavelengths that they couldn't see in any other way," said project scientist Roc Cutri of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) in Pasadena, Calif. IPAC is operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), both in Pasadena.

"The current release is based on a volume of data several hundred times larger than that contained in the human genome," said Skrutskie. "Astronomers will become cosmic geneticists, searching out patterns in these sky maps to decode the structure and origin of the Milky Way and the surrounding nearby Universe."

The images were gathered by the Two-Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), twin infrared telescopes that see wavelengths beyond red light in the rainbow of visible colors. Infrared light is emitted by humans and all objects with temperatures above absolute zero (-273 Celsius or -459 Fahrenheit). Infrared light penetrates the obscuring dust that pervades the Milky Way Galaxy, and can detect heat from very cool objects not visible with optical telescopes.

The 2MASS survey, a collaborative effort between UMass and IPAC, uses two highly automated, 51-inch (1.3-meter) diameter telescopes, one at Mount Hopkins, Ariz., the other at Cerro Tololo, Chile.

"For scientists, this computerized data represents a quantum leap from earlier infrared surveys," Cutri said. "They can study properties of all these objects, create a model of the Milky Way, and map distribution of galaxies in the local universe."

2MASS, the most extensive infrared astronomical survey to date, began operations in 1997. UMass was responsible for the development and construction of the 2MASS telescopes and cameras and manages the collection of survey data. IPAC combines and processes 2MASS images into usable data. Observations will conclude in 2001, with final processing of the data and release to the public by 2003.

Various discoveries highlight the scientific potential of the 2MASS data. For instance, astronomers had to revise a century-old classification system when 2MASS uncovered numerous stars very different from known classes of stars. They also used 2MASS data to discover the coolest known brown dwarfs, or failed stars; detect previously unknown star clusters within, and galaxies beyond, the Milky Way; discover and map regions of space where stars are born; and find a new population of galaxies, quasars, and super-massive black holes.

Part of NASA's Origins Program, 2MASS is funded by NASA's Office of Space Science and the National Science Foundation. 2MASS results will benefit such future Origins missions as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility and Next Generation Space Telescope, and will help scientists plan observations for the Hubble Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. JPL manages the program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of Caltech.
Note: Michael Skrutskie can be contacted at 413-545-2456 or skrutskie@astro.umass.edu

A parallel release is being issued today by NASA and its Jet Propulsion Lab. A sampling of the images is posted online at http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/2mass/gallery/second/ and includes the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, the hat-shaped Sombrero Galaxy, and the Orion Nebula.

Additional information about 2MASS and the latest release is available at the 2MASS/IPAC web site at http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/2mass/

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related Astronomers Articles from Brightsurf:

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Astronomers capture a pulsar 'powering up'
A Monash-University-led collaboration has, for the first time, observed the full, 12-day process of material spiralling into a distant neutron star, triggering an X-ray outburst thousands of times brighter than our Sun.

Astronomers discover new class of cosmic explosions
Analysis of two cosmic explosions indicates to astronomers that the pair, along with a puzzling blast from 2018, constitute a new type of event, with similarities to some supernovae and gamma-ray bursts, but also with significant differences.

Astronomers discover planet that never was
What was thought to be an exoplanet in a nearby star system likely never existed in the first place, according to University of Arizona astronomers.

Canadian astronomers determine Earth's fingerprint
Two McGill University astronomers have assembled a 'fingerprint' for Earth, which could be used to identify a planet beyond our Solar System capable of supporting life.

Astronomers help wage war on cancer
Techniques developed by astronomers could help in the fight against breast and skin cancer.

Astronomers make history in a split second
In a world first, an Australian-led international team of astronomers has determined the precise location of a powerful one-off burst of cosmic radio waves.

Astronomers witness galaxy megamerger
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international team of scientists has uncovered a startlingly dense concentration of 14 galaxies that are poised to merge, forming the core of what will eventually become a colossal galaxy cluster.

Astronomers discover a star that would not die
An international team of astronomers has made a bizarre discovery; a star that refuses to stop shining.

Astronomers spun up by galaxy-shape finding
For the first time astronomers have measured how a galaxy's spin affects its shape -- something scientists have tried to do for 90 years -- using a sample of 845 galaxies.

Read More: Astronomers News and Astronomers Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.