New ‘robotic eyes’ will peer into our Milky Way galaxy

(ORDO NEWS) — Thanks to a new automated system, an international collaboration including scientists from the University of Toronto, Canada, has improved the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a more than 20-year-old project that studies the structure and evolution of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

The new Focal Plane System (FPS) is the centerpiece of the fifth phase of the project, dubbed SDSS-V. This system replaced the labor-intensive, manual way of making joint observations of hundreds of stars, which required astronomers to manually connect hundreds of optical fibers into special holes drilled in a metal disk lying in the focal plane of the telescope.

The FPS will enable two of the three key programs of the SDSS-V phase: Milky Way Mapper (MWM) and Black Hole Mapper (BHM). Together, these two projects will collect observational data from millions of objects scattered across the sky, ranging from stars lying in our galactic neighborhood to unimaginably distant supermassive black holes (SMBHs).

The MWM program aims to study our Galaxy in unprecedented detail. It will take advantage of our unique location within the Milky Way to provide a high-resolution map of the galaxy’s stars and their movements.

As part of the MWM program, it is supposed to measure the masses, determine the age, chemical composition, the presence of companions, as well as study other properties of stars of all types – including hot massive stars, stars in the process of formation, as well as white dwarfs, which are the dead remains of stars, similar to the sun.

Meanwhile, the BHM program will study quasars, which are among the brightest objects in the universe. Powered by material flowing into SMBHs at the centers of galaxies, quasars can be used as landmarks to study the growth of these cosmic giants over time.

The SDSS-V phase will collect observational data from more than 300,000 quasars to measure the masses of their respective black holes, understand the physical processes that occur when matter is absorbed by black holes, and trace their growth over billions of years.

Compiled from materials provided by the University of Toronto.

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