October 29, 2013
A Further Look To The Stars
The question of “what is out there?” has been a driving factor for many who have devoted themselves to outer space research, observation, and exploration — not to mention the countless dreamers, storytellers and believers out there who hope that, one day, we will discover something new and wondrous that will forever change our present understanding of the cosmos. Gazing up at the night sky is something shared by almost every man and woman to ever walk on this Earth? It gives us hope. Fills us with wonder. Makes us question. Dares us to believe. Thanks to things like telescopes and satellite images taken from our outer atmosphere, we have been given much clearer views at the beauty that exists beyond this tiny planet of ours, and yet there is so much that is still beyond our reach. Beyond our very sight.
Now, an ambitious collaborative program called “Frontier Fields” is going to give us a closer look at the stars than ever before. For the next few years, researchers and astronomers will be gazing at six distinct star clusters using the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra space telescopes, and using a naturally occurring phenomenon called gravitational lensing, to look at galaxies that are as much as 100 times further away than these three telescopes are normally able to see. This will allow the team not only to see inside the star clusters, but also behind them. The gravitational lensing will both brighten and magnify background galaxies that we would be otherwise unable to view. With each of the three space telescopes viewing these galaxies using a different method, it will give researchers a more complete view of them that they can study. With the Hubble and the Spitzer telescopes working together to calculate the distance and mass of these distant galaxies more precisely than either could do alone, and with the Chandra using X-ray wavelengths to assist in determining mass and also measuring their gravitational patterns, figuring out which of these galaxies are home to super-massive black holes. The goal, as always, is to try to understand how the first galaxies came into being. According to John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, “The Frontier Fields program is exactly what NASA‘s Great Observatories were designed to do; working together to unravel the mysteries of the universe.” How awesome is that?
Using technology and nature together in able to see the unseen, to look beyond what we have ever been able to view before, is truly an amazing proposal. Who knows what new discoveries the Frontier Fields program could uncover? What new truths about our cosmos they could learn? I cannot wait to find out.
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