UArizona to build telescope to discover secrets of galaxy evolution

Jan 9, 2021, 8:00 AM | Updated: 5:20 pm
The University of Arizona uarizona...
(Facebook Photo/The University of Arizona)
(Facebook Photo/The University of Arizona)

PHOENIX — The University of Arizona will soon embark on a mission to discover secrets of galaxy evolution after being selected by NASA to participate in a new program aimed at exploring cosmic phenomena.

UArizona in a press release Thursday said the Aspera mission’s goal is to provide the first-ever direct observation of a certain portion of gas populations that permeate and surround individual galaxies.

The mission could help solve a long-standing mystery about how galaxies form, evolve and interact with each other, according to the release.

A telescope, barely larger than a mini-fridge in size, will be designed to see ultraviolet light that is invisible to the eye.

It will be used to look for gas phases that have previously eluded astronomers, according to the release.

“As telescopes have become more sensitive and have allowed us to discover more exotic types of gases, we now realize there is tons of stuff in between galaxies that connects them,” Carlos Vargas, principal investigator, said in the release.

“Galaxies are undergoing this beautiful dance in which inflowing and outflowing gases balance each other.”

Vargas said it is important to study these certain gas phases that have yet to be witnessed, as it is believed to host most of a galaxy’s mass.

“There is this intermediate form we refer to as warm-hot, and that is particularly interesting because it provides the fuel for star formation,” he said. “No one has been able to successfully map its distribution and really determine what it looks like.”

The telescope will be the only instrument in space able to see the ultraviolet spectrum, according to the release, excluding the Hubble Space Telescope that has surpassed its lifespan.

Aspera, latin for “hardship” and named to highlight the journey to observe the gasses, is part of four missions picked by NASA for the agency’s new Pioneers Program.

Other missions will study stars and exoplanets, detect high-energy gamma rays and find clues about how black holes are created using signals found in ultra-high energy neutrinos.

The telescope is intended for launch in late 2024 with the mission having a $20 million cost cap, according to the release.

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UArizona to build telescope to discover secrets of galaxy evolution