New $13 million research tool to seek Milky Way origins
16 April 2014
An ingenious new $13 million instrument launched by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) at Coonabarabran will enable astronomers to explore the origins of the Milky Way.
The instrument, known as ‘HERMES’, can capture and analyse light from up to 400 stars or galaxies at the same time.
“Australia is a world leader in astronomy. This new instrument will allow some of our greatest scientists to make new breakthroughs in this important field,” Minister Macfarlane said.
“The AAO’s Anglo-Australian Telescope is world-renowned for its record of discovery and this new instrument, HERMES, will ensure it continues to lead the way.
“Using HERMES, astronomers will be able to analyse light from more than a million stars in our galaxy, helping them map the age and movements of the stars and unravel how the Milky Way formed.
“HERMES has been developed over five years by scientists and engineers at the AAO, and will be used by scientists from all over the world.”
Mr Macfarlane said the AAO had a proud record of inventing and building world-leading technology and instruments for optical astronomers, with robotic control systems and other sensors being constructed at its laboratories for major observatories in Hawaii and Chile.
“Our participation in world-class research like this, and the international collaboration on the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, has enormous potential to build skills across many fields of technology that will create opportunities for Australian industry, including in the emerging areas of big data and high performance computing,” Mr Macfarlane said.
The Australian Government contributed almost $8 million from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Education Investment Fund to the development of HERMES (the High Efficiency and Resolution Multi-Element Spectrograph).
The project has been funded through Astronomy Australia Ltd, which coordinates national research infrastructure investments for the astronomy community.
Light is fed into HERMES along optical fibres, which are positioned in the telescope by world-leading robotic technology developed by the AAO. HERMES then spreads out the colours of the light into spectra that tell us about the motion and chemical composition of the stars in our Milky Way, through a new project known as the ‘Galactic Archaeology with HERMES', or GALAH, survey.
The GALAH survey is a multinational project involving 70 astronomers from 17 institutions in eight countries, led by Professor Ken Freeman from the Australian National University, Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from the University of Sydney and Dr Gayandhi De Silva from the AAO.
“Australia has a rich heritage of research and innovation in science,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“The Australian Government recognises the important role science plays in our community. This landmark astronomical survey is a prime example of the world-leading collaborations made possible by Australian science and innovation.”
Media resources, including stills and overlay footage are available from: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/673mnycksx64jc6/05PRmkB3bJ
Media contacts: Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070