Distant galaxies

New technology in Chile photographs beautiful Cat’s Paw Nebula

Addition to telescope allows astronomers to observe everything from star formation regions to distant constellations.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013  
he star-forming Cat’s Paw nebula through the new device recently added to the APEX telescope in Chil he star-forming Cat’s Paw nebula through the new device recently added to the APEX telescope in Chile.



The aim was to peer deep into our universe, to surmount the challenges of light consuming dust clouds and almost-incomprehensible distance to examine constellations thousands of light years away, but the first hurdle to overcome was one much closer to home: bad weather.

The team that installed the state-of-the-art ArTeMIS camera onto a telescope high up in Chile’s Atacama Desert had to weather the elements before they could test this exciting new technology. Due to be installed on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, progress was halted when very heavy snow almost buried the APEX control building.

Thankfully quick thinking and help from operations staff at ALMA saw the ArTeMIS moved via a makeshift road and ultimately attached to the APEX telescope without problems.

Twelve meters in diameter, the APEX telescope operates at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum -— allowing astronomers to observe phenomena far out in the Universe. The ArTeMIS camera is a new wide-field submillimeter-wavelength camera that will further increase the depth and detail that can be observed through this world-class telescope by allowing for the creation of wide-field maps of the sky to be made faster and with more pixels.

Before they could test this new camera, however, astronomers had to wait for very dry weather, ideal working conditions for ArTeMIS. Relying on submillimeter wavelengths of light to capture far-away constellations, the ArTeMIS camera works best in the absence of water vapor, which absorbs light at this end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Once tried, ArTeMIS did not disappoint. The new device tested successfully and was since used for several scientific projects including mapping of the star formation region NGC 6334, known by the catchier name “the Cat’s Paw Nebula”.

Images of this dramatic star nursery have since provided a more detailed-than-ever glimpse into an extreme region of the universe containing thousands of newly formed stars, some with up to 30 or 40 times as much mass as our sun, and the potential to form around 200,000 more.

Due to its almost non-existent humidity and clear skies, the Atacama is the world’s premier location for astronomy. Chile is home to almost half the world’s telescope infrastructure, and this is set to increase to over two thirds in the next decade.