By: Fariss Samarrai | University Communications
A 4,000-pound astronomy instrument called APOGEE-2, built in the last two years at the University of Virginia, will soon be crated up and transported on an 8,000-mile, two-month journey to its new home at the Las Campanas Observatory in the northern Chilean desert.
The instrument – an infrared spectrograph designed to peer through cosmic dust to stars at the farthest reaches of our home galaxy, the Milky Way – will travel first by truck to California, then by container ship to Chile. It then will be trucked across the desert to Las Campanas and attached to a wide-field telescope, where it will take in “first light” in February.
“We know it works,” said John Wilson, the UVA instrument scientist who led the design, construction, assembly and testing of the spectrograph. “We’ve done enough fine-tuning and testing to be sure.”
Wilson is working with UVA astronomers Steven Majewski, who leads the project, and astronomy department chair Michael Skrutskie, who years ago established the UVA astronomical instrumentation lab that made the project possible. They assembled a team of astronomy department lab members and dozens of specialists from around the United States, seven Chilean universities and many other countries around the world, all working countless hours and long days babying the $6 million instrument to maturity.
APOGEE-2 is an infrared-sensitive spectrograph that will allow astronomers to examine – at wavelengths longer than optical light – the chemical composition and motions of hundreds of thousands of stars in the southern Milky Way, most of them cloaked by interstellar dust and difficult or impossible to observe from the Northern Hemisphere.