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4MOST Project to Develop 3D Map of Galaxies Neighboring Milky Way

An international team of researchers, including physicists from the University of Sussex, will create a 3D map of 10 million galaxies neighboring the Milky Way.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way. (Image credit: University of Sussex)

The “4MOST” project (4-metre Multi-Object Spectroscopic Telescope) is a partnership with eminent institutions in the United Kingdom and other countries. Initially, the researchers will add a new spectroscopic facility to the VISTA telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Then, they will have a watch over nearly 10 million galaxies and also millions of stars from the Milky Way.

Through the analysis of the spectral features of the light radiated from the center of each galaxy, the researchers can compute the speed at which each galaxy is traveling away from the Milky Way. Since the rate of expansion of the universe is uniform, a galaxy’s speed of movement is a precise proxy for its distance from the Milky Way. The team has located each of the galaxies and will develop a 3D map of a considerable volume of the universe.

This is one of the largest astrophysics projects of the University of Sussex. The Sussex team includes Dr Jon Loveday, Prof. Seb Oliver, Prof. Kathy Romer, and Dr Robert Smith, together with several students and other researchers.

We will be creating a 3D map of ten million galaxies in the sky, viewing them from a telescope in Chile. Not only is this an important and fascinating endeavour in its own right, but it may also help us to understand what the universe is made of. We know there are such things as ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ which are responsible for the way the universe formed and is expanding—but we still don’t know what they actually are.

Dr Jon Loveday, Reader in Astronomy, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Sussex

Loveday, who leads the project for the University of Sussex, continued saying “Sussex scientists working on this project will be therefore trying to unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the universe.”

According to PhD student Dan Pryer who has already started working on the project, on the “extragalactic helpdesk,” “As a student it’s really exciting to be able to work on a project like this. I’ve also volunteered on the ‘extragalactic helpdesk’, which might sound like a call centre for aliens (!), but it actually sees me working with researchers around the world on surveys of galaxies in space.”

Pryer added, “I think it will allow me to develop my communication skills and also network within the scientific community which might help me in the future.”

We’re thrilled to have joined the highly prestigious 4MOST consortium in leadership roles, as this will help to keep the University of Sussex at the very forefront of the next generation of UK astronomy.

Professor Philip Harris, Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Sussex

Harris continued, “It is tremendously exciting, and amongst other things, it will give our staff and students the opportunity to help create a three-dimensional map of the universe with unparalleled resolution, shedding light on some of the greatest outstanding questions about our cosmic origins.”

The 4MOST project will start making observations in 2022 and will continue the same at least for five years.


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