Pow­er­ful new ro­botic cam­era cap­tures stun­ning new im­age of Orion neb­ula

The Guardian Australia - - Environment / Science - Ian Sam­ple Science ed­i­tor

The tur­bu­lent cos­mic cloud known as the Orion neb­ula has been cap­tured by as­tronomers with a pow­er­ful ro­botic cam­era freshly in­stalled at the Palo­mar Ob­ser­va­tory near San Diego in Cal­i­for­nia.

The neb­ula is a stel­lar nurs­ery 1,500 light years from Earth where more than 1,000 young stars are thought to re­side. It forms the bright­est spot in the sword of Orion, in the con­stel­la­tion of the hunter.

It is the first im­age taken by the cam­era, which forms the cen­tre­piece of a new au­to­matic sur­vey of the sky known as the Zwicky Tran­sient Fa­cil­ity, or ZTF, named af­ter Fritz Zwicky, a Swiss as­tronomer who dis­cov­ered 120 ex­plod­ing stars in his life­time.

The cam­era can cap­ture hun­dreds of thou­sands of stars and gal­ax­ies in a sin­gle shot and will be used to scour the heav­ens for in­ter­est­ing ob­jects from su­per­novae and black holes, to as­ter­oids and comets.

Mansi Kasli­wal, an as­tronomer at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, said the cam­era would sur­vey the uni­verse like never be­fore. “With its im­mense sur­vey speed, ZTF can look at mov­ing ob­jects in the so­lar sys­tem, such as near-Earth as­ter­oids, as well as cat­a­clysmic erup­tions of stars flick­er­ing in our own Milky Way gal­axy,” she said. “It’s go­ing to give us a trea­sure trove of dis­cov­er­ies.”

In­stalled on the Oschin Te­le­scope at Palo­mar, the cam­era can cap­ture seven times more sky in a sin­gle im­age than its pre­de­ces­sor. Ev­ery night, it will scan a large por­tion of the north­ern sky to dis­cover ob­jects that erupt or vary in bright­ness, in­clud­ing stars be­ing feasted on by black holes. Among other sig­nals, as­tronomers ex­pect it to de­tect traces of ra­di­a­tion from events that send grav­i­ta­tional waves far out into space.

The fa­cil­ity’s science sur­vey phase is due to be­gin in Fe­bru­ary next year and run to the end of 2020.

This piece was edited on 15 Novem­ber to cor­rect the cap­tion on the main im­age, which was wrongly iden­ti­fied as the Orion neb­ula. The im­age is of the Horse­head and Flame neb­u­lae.

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