Astronomers release largest ever infrared sky survey

Astronomers have released the largest ever map of the sky at infrared wavelengths, with over 1.5 million mega-pixels and containing nearly two billion stars and galaxies.

The largest infrared image of the sky ever taken, known as the UKIRT Hemisphere Survey,  has been released today by astronomers led by Dr Simon Dye at the University of Nottingham and Professor Andy Lawrence at the University of Edinburgh.

The image is a whopping 1.5 million mega pixels and has detected nearly two billion stars and galaxies. It is the culmination of over ten years work on an international project to image the northern sky in the infrared part of the spectrum. Astronomers can search the image using an online database based in Edinburgh. Initially the survey is open to UK astronomers along with colleagues in Hawaii and Arizona, but in a year’s time it will be open to all astronomers world wide.

The image has been captured using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). This is a 3.8m telescope located near the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii. The telescope is dedicated to observing the sky in the infrared part of the spectrum, giving astronomers a view of the processes which shape the formation of stars and galaxies at wavelengths invisible to human eyes. The telescope uses an innovative IR Wide Field Camera developed at the Astronomy Technology Centre of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Dr Dye commented:  “Releasing this image is a hugely exciting moment for astronomy. It  gives the clearest view we have ever seen of the northern sky in the infrared. This is a significant milestone, providing an important database with a high legacy value for astronomers in years to come.”

Professor Andy Lawrence reflected:  “The survey has already been used to find some of the most distant quasars known. I am cooking up my own projects as we speak.”

Completion of the project has been made possible by a partnership between the UK Science Technology and Facilities Council, the University of Hawaii, the University of Arizona, Lockheed Martin and NASA.