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Astronomers to lead €9m space project

University researchers are to lead a €9m international astronomy project.

Scientists at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh will spearhead efforts to probe the distant reaches of the early Universe using a powerful new telescopic tool.

Plans for the project were outlined on Friday 26 September at an event at the Observatory.

Stargazing power

Edinburgh astronomers will lead on the development of a new instrument to boost the stargazing powers of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in northern Chile.

The VLT is the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical facility.

The instrument - known as MOONS - will be used to tackle some of the most compelling astronomical puzzles, such as how stars and galaxies form and evolve, and probing the structure of our own Milky Way.

It will allow astronomers to see obscured areas in the Milky Way at a distance of around 40,000 light years away, and enable them to create a 3D map of our galaxy.

This instrument will act as an intergalactic GPS to help us to navigate through the billions of stars in our galaxy and create a comprehensive map of its structure.

Professor Gillian WrightDirector of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre

Unique instrument

Researchers at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, based at the Observatory, will manage a multinational consortium that will construct MOONS. The instrument is scheduled to become operational by 2019

MOONS is a unique instrument able to pioneer a wide range of galactic, extragalactic and cosmological studies. We look forward to building this exceptional piece of technology and paving the way for many discoveries.

Dr Michele CirasuoloSchool of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and Principal Investigator of MOONS project

Scientific excellence

Throughout its 118 year history, the Observatory on Blackford Hill has been at the forefront of astronomical innovation.

Also taking place at the event will be the official re-naming of a building on-site in honour of the Astronomer Royal of Scotland who created the Observatory - Ralph Copeland

Plans for the new £11m Higgs Centre for Innovation - due to open on the Observatory site in 2016 - will also be presented for the first time.