Charting the Universe

Published: Monday 31 August 1998

It is our passage to billions of light-years into space. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey's electronic camera, mounted on a 2.5-metre telescope in New Mexico, USA, captured its first images of stars, galaxies and quasars on the nights of May 9 and 10. Merely one per cent of the data from the first night of observation drew gasps at a press conference held at the American Astronomical Society in San Diego in June when the images were unrolled. Sloan's first glimpse of the Universe was so overpowering that Michael Shull, astrophysicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, thought it could only be a computer simulation. "Oh this is data?" asked a surprised Shull. The Sloan is a collective effort of eight universities and other institutions. It will collect images of about 200 million objects over the coming five years. "Not only are we wall-papering the sky, but our machine is doing six rolls at once," said Michael Turner, the project's spokesperson (Science, Vol 280, No 5371).

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