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Illumination is Possible

At UVA, astronomy and technology are lighting up the darkest corners of our galaxy.

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Astronomy

APOGEE uses infrared light to see through the dust that keeps conventional telescopes from analyzing the far side of our galaxy. Its design also lets it observe 300 stars at once, versus one star at a time. Those advances dramatically accelerate research.

“APOGEE allows us to create the first-ever systematic, comprehensive probe of stars in every part of our galaxy. And we can do it hundreds of times faster," said Steven Majewski, APOGEE principal investigator.

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Technology

In January 2017 a second APOGEE instrument was installed in Chile. Its southern hemisphere location gives access to stars that are impossible to observe from the northern hemisphere.

This allows a much fuller view of the galaxy, and new insights to how the Milky Way formed and is evolving. APOGEE also is helping astronomers identify potential planets in other solar systems, including those most likely to support life.

Team members Fred Hearty (l) and Garrett Ebelke (r) carefully unwind the cable containing hundreds of fiber optic strands. Each strand carries the light of an individual star from the telescope to the APOGEE spectrograph.

Individual fiber optic strands—each the width of a hair—emerge from the cable and plug into star-specific ports on the telescope's drum. From here the light of each star is routed to the APOGEE spectrograph for analysis.

The light from each strand is transmitted to the APOGEE spectrograph via this connector. Each white dot in the image is the actual light being emitted by an individual star, which will undergo analysis by the spectrograph.

Team members Mita Tembe (l) and John Wilson (r) plugging the fiber optic strands into the proper ports. This is a painstaking process: If any of the hundreds of thin strands are bent or misrouted, accurate analysis will be impossible.

The APOGEE spectrograph was built at UVA and shipped to Chile via truck and boat. Valued at $6 million, the unit analyzes starlight to help astronomers understand phenomena once beyond the reach of analysis.

The Du Pont telescope is an optical telescope with technology that has been eclipsed by newer instruments. However, its wide field of view is ideally suited for APOGEE’s work.

The Las Campanas observatory enjoys stunning views of the southern hemisphere sky—and allows the APOGEE team to analyze the entire Milky Way galaxy.

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The Milky Way gets its name from the dust that creates its glowing white appearance. While beautiful, this dust is what prevents optical telescopes from analyzing the galaxy's furthest reaches.

Team members Fred Hearty (l) and Garrett Ebelke (r) carefully unwind the cable containing hundreds of fiber optic strands. Each strand carries the light of an individual star from the telescope to the APOGEE spectrograph.
The light from each strand is transmitted to the APOGEE spectrograph via this connector. Each white dot in the image is the actual light being emitted by an individual star, which will undergo analysis by the spectrograph.
The APOGEE spectrograph was built at UVA and shipped to Chile via truck and boat. Valued at $6 million, the unit analyzes starlight to help astronomers understand phenomena once beyond the reach of analysis.
Individual fiber optic strands—each the width of a hair—emerge from the cable and plug into star-specific ports on the telescope's drum. From here the light of each star is routed to the APOGEE spectrograph for analysis.
Team members Mita Tembe (l) and John Wilson (r) plugging the fiber optic strands into the proper ports. This is a painstaking process: If any of the hundreds of thin strands are bent or misrouted, accurate analysis will be impossible.
The Du Pont telescope is an optical telescope with technology that has been eclipsed by newer instruments. However, its wide field of view is ideally suited for APOGEE’s work.
The Las Campanas observatory enjoys stunning views of the southern hemisphere sky—and allows the APOGEE team to analyze the entire Milky Way galaxy.
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