Heat from the Heavens - Opening up the Infrared Sky

A globular cluster
A globular cluster Credit: UKIDSS/JAC

The JAC (Joint Astronomy Centre) has announced that the infrared sky is expanding significantly for the world astronomical community with the first world release of data (DR1) from the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS).

UKIDSS DR1 has mapped a larger volume of the sky than any previous infrared survey. As the UKIDSS project progresses, it will gradually become the dominant source of information about the infrared sky, expanding its volume by a factor of 15 beyond DR1.

For the past two years, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii has been using the WFCAM instrument built at the UK ATC to systematically scan the heavens for five different "colours" of faint infrared light. This allows astronomers to penetrate dark clouds where stars are currently forming, and to locate stars much less massive and much cooler than the Sun. Furthermore, our own Galaxy (the Milky Way) is transparent to the infrared, making it possible to see all the way to its centre and beyond.

And finally, the expansion of the Universe stretches visible light from the most distant (and youngest) galaxies and quasars into the infrared part of the spectrum, and by observing this infrared light we can trace the evolution of galaxies from their youngest members. The first world release of these data makes all this information available to researchers everywhere.

For full story, see the JAC Press Release.