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Issue 471, 228 October 2001

Cosmic collaborations

The University of Leeds is taking part in a worldwide collaboration project to provide the most detailed three-dimensional map ever of the Universe. Dr Stuart Lumsden from physics and astronomy is one of thirty scientists from eleven institutions who have been using Australia's largest optical telescope and a remarkable instrument called 2dF to gather the information.

One of the most complex pieces of astronomical equipment ever built, 2dF allows astronomers to observe and analyse 400 objects at once. On a long, clear night, they can log the positions of more than 2,000 galaxies. The instrument uses 400 optical fibres, which a robotic arm takes about one hour to position with incredible accuracy.The optical fibres pipe the light from each galaxy into spectrographs, where it is split into its component colours, allowing the astronomers to tell how far away each galaxy is.

The scientists aim to log the position of 250,000 galaxies by the end of 2001, and their map of the Universe will then be ten times larger than any previous survey, helping them learn more about the structure of the Universe, how galaxies are made and how they form into larger structures.

The astronomers also hope to accurately measure the total amount of matter in the Universe and understand more about 'dark matter' which makes up at least 90% of the total mass of the Universe.

For more information, see the 2dF site

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