Durham joins world astronomers to harness Hawaiian super telescope
(10 October 2006)
Astronomers from Durham University have joined forces with several major research institutions around the world and signed an agreement to exploit a revolutionary new survey telescope sited in Hawaii which is expected to discover billions of new stars, galaxies and solar system objects, and to identify potential ‘killer asteroids’ that threaten the Earth.
Durham’s leading astronomers head a UK partnership made up of Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Edinburgh which has joined a select group of US and German institutions to exploit an advanced new telescope, Pan-STARRS on the Hawaiian island of Maui, one of the world's prime astronomical sites. The giant telescope it is equipped with the world's largest digital camera and while monitoring the sky in the hunt for asteroids that might be heading our way, will also build up the most detailed image yet of the universe around us. This will enable astronomers to investigate small solar system objects and search for exploding stars (supernovae), to produce 3-dimensional maps of galaxies and dark matter, to measure the properties of the dark energy and to investigate how galaxies have evolved over half the age of the universe. Scientists' perception of the cosmos has fundamentally changed in the past few years. Novel technologies have led to a swathe of exciting discoveries, from new planets orbiting nearby stars to the mysterious dark energy that is causing our universe to expand at an ever accelerating rate. The cutting-edge imaging capability of Pan-STARRS will open up a new window to these fundamental problems. Cosmologist and Director of Durham's Institute for Computational Cosmology, Professor Carlos Frenk said: “Pan-STARRS is a truly innovative concept that will enable us to tackle some of the outstanding questions in science today, from the threat of killer asteroids to the origin of galaxies and the identity of dark matter and dark energy. New results and insights are inevitable.” Professor Frenk is supported by Durham’s Head of Astronomy and Astrophysics Professor Martin Ward, and Professor Shaun Cole who is an active researcher in the area of galaxy formations. Durham’s participation in the PanSTARRS project is supported by the Ogden Trust named after the benefactor businessman and Durham physics graduate, Professor Sir Peter Ogden. The University, which celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2007, has an established partnership with the Ogden Trust which already supports the University’s Masterclass Programme and established Teaching Fellowships. Durham is also home to The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, a world-leading centre of research which was opened in 2002 by the Prime Minister. Over the next three and half years more than 30 of the world’s leading scientists and their students will be committed to analysing the unprecedented flood of data, discovering asteroids and comets, mapping the cosmos and getting closer to the origins of our universe. The international consortium includes the Max-Planck-Institutes for Astronomy and Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Las Cumbres Observatory in the USA. The full consortium will contribute about $10M (£5M) to cover the cost of operating the telescope in Hawaii, which was constructed at a cost of about $40M (£20M).