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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA studies stars with LUCIFER

“”Lucifer”” means “”light-bringer”” in Latin. To UA scientists, LUCIFER means illuminating some of the darker areas of planetary science research.

LUCIFER is a new instrument developed by the UA in collaboration with scientists from around the globe, including Germany and Italy. LUCIFER will be placed on the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham in Safford and will feature two major components: cameras and a spectrograph, which disperses light into various color spectra, including the infrared color range that LUCIFER will operate and observe. The full name is the LBT NIR Spectroscopic Utility with Camera and Integral-Field Unit for Extragalactic Research.

“”It’s akin to driving through a dust storm on a highway,”” said UA astronomy professor Richard Green, who is director of Large Binocular Telescope. “”Red light gets through, but the blue light does not, and this allows astronomers to look through clouds of dust to see where new stars are being formed.””

Observing the formation of stars will give collaborators further insight into how other things, such as planets or galaxies, form within the universe.

“”In our expanding universe, when we look backwards in time, things get more red-shifted, where the visible light spectrum that we use to diagnose what elements are in nearby stars get shifted into that visible range so we can study familiar physical features,”” Green said. “”It’s all about formation and evolution, and we can do that both for stars nearby and the planets that are around them. We can learn more about the formation of whole galaxies in the early universe.””

LUCIFER will consist of two cameras that will produce images independent of each other. A new device, manufactured by UA scientists in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, the University of Virginia and Notre Dame University, will take two separate images and unite them into a picture 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope is able to produce.

“”A fairly active field in astronomy now is how planet systems form, what do they look like and whether the processes by which they form are similar to our solar system or are quite different,”” said Phil Hinz, an associate professor at the Steward Observatory. “”We’re trying to understand how we fit into the greater picture.””

Hinz expressed his belief that the images the Large Binocular Telescope produces will lead to a greater understanding in how Earth-like planets form and will also aid in the search for other planets suitable for sustaining life.

“”This is a long-standing goal of the field,”” Hinz said. “”(The telescope) will start answering that question. We’ll be able to start putting together the pieces of the puzzle.””

Hinz said the device will be ready to use sometime this fall, possibly within six months. LUCIFER, on the other hand, still has at least one more year until its decade-long construction is complete, since the second instrument necessary for the project will probably not be delivered to the telescope until 2011.

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