From the Manchester College Archives

News Release

Contact: Jeri Kornegay
Director of Media and Public Relations
260-982-5285  jskornegay@manchester.edu

 

 

Great galaxy! Manchester College scientist, student researchers

get 3-D look at Milky Way

with orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope

 

Manchester College physics and astronomy teacher Dr. Christer Watson is curious just how thick the Milky Way is. He’s focused on finding out … with eight other scientists who have gained 250 hours of observation with NASA’s $733 million orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. 

The team, headed by Dr. Robert Benjamin at Watson’s alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will use a $736,000 grant for a 3-D infrared study of the Milky Way. The project is the third and final of a series of GLIMPSE (Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire).

Actually, the scientists won’t be peering through the telescope … that’s orbiting in space on a satellite. All of their work will be on computers, analyzing the data the telescope sends back to Earth. The space-based Spitzer observatory detects mid-infrared radiation (heat), which allows scientists like Watson to “see” deep into the galaxy and determine the thickness of the universe. 

“It’s hard to determine how our galaxy was formed when observing other galaxies,” explains Watson, an assistant professor who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.  Knowing the thickness will help scientists determine how our galaxy was formed.

Watson’s participation on the GLIMPSE team also brings Manchester College a $10,000 grant to give students at the North Manchester, Ind. campus a chance to research real data from the project. Such an incredible opportunity could be the inspiration for future scientists, notes Watson. 

As Spitzer – launched from Cape Canaveral in August 2003 – orbits the sun behind Earth, it collects and sends digital data to a NASA lab in California. The GLIMPSE team (with scientists from England and Belgium as well as the United States) then records and analyzes the computer files. Watson’s job is to set the coordinates for the telescope, which he’ll do from his computer in Indiana.

“Observational astronomy is all computer programming,” Watson says.  “It’s all similar to using a digital camera, taking a picture and loading it onto your computer.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. The observation scientists first must write a computer program so they can analyze the data.

Watson became involved in GLIMPSE as a grad student at Wisconsin, helping design a way for the telescope to take pictures of a large area of sky efficiently. Originally, the telescope could only distinguish very dim objects, and only after focusing on a small patch of sky for a long time.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth and final element in NASA’s family of “Great Observatories,” which includes the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Learn more about the Spitzer Space Telescope at www.spitzer.caltech.edu

Learn more about GLIMPSE at www.astro.wisc.edu/sirtf/

 

One out of every 12 graduates of Manchester College has achieved a Ph.D. or professional doctorate (M.D., D.O, D.V.M., D.D.S.) in the sciences. They chair university science departments, direct research at major pharmaceutical companies, have led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, received the Nobel Prize, and are responsible for more than 100 patents.

The College, with a new $17 million Science Center on its northern Indiana campus, offers degrees in biology, chemistry, biology-chemistry (pre-medicine), physics, environmental science, mathematics, computer science and engineering science. Learn more about science at Manchester at www.manchester.edu

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