Uni Physics Team Allows Telescope to Make a Big Discovery; Cardiff Scientists' Instrument Helps Researchers to Explain Galaxies

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 31, 2010 | Go to article overview

Uni Physics Team Allows Telescope to Make a Big Discovery; Cardiff Scientists' Instrument Helps Researchers to Explain Galaxies


Byline: Mike Jones

IT'S one of the biggest mysteries facing mankind: how the universe was formed.

And while the answer to that eternal question remains elusive, a small but significant step towards it has been taken thanks to a pioneering instrument designed by Welsh scientists.

Astronomers at the European Space Agency have discovered that the brightest, most productive galaxies tend to be in the busiest parts of the universe.

While, to the layman, that statement might initially seem obvious, the discovery has solved a puzzle that has baffled international scientist for over a decade - the presence of strange, bright galaxies in remote parts of the universe which appeared to be forming stars at a phenomenal rate.

The breakthrough was made using the Herschel telescope's Spire instrument, which was developed by a team led by scientists from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University, led by Professor Matt Griffin.

Spire, which stands for Spectral and Imaging Receiver is a supercooled camera that responds to light at wavelengths between 250 and 500 microns.

Thanks to the images it has produced, researchers now understand that there are galaxies grouped together at the centre of large clusters in distant parts of the universe.

The discovery will allow scientists to make significant advances on how galaxies were formed.

A spokesman for the research team said: "This crucial piece of information will enable theorists to fix up their theories of galaxy formation.

"These galaxies are very hard to explain with conventional theories of galaxy formation.

"One important question has been the environments in which these galaxies are located, such as how close together they are.

"The Herschel Space Observatory, with its ability for very sensitive mapping over wide areas, has been able to see thousands of these galaxies and identify their location, showing for the first time that these galaxies are packed closely together in the centre of large galaxy clusters. …

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