Camera sheds light on early Universe

University astronomers are helping to lead a study of how some of the oldest stars in the Universe were formed.

A team of scientists from the UK, Canada and Netherlands are examining star formation across the Universe, looking back in time to when the universe was still young.

The consortium is using the most powerful camera of its type to observe light at wavelengths beyond the visible light spectrum, which cannot be seen by eye.

Astronomy meeting

The camera, known as SCUBA-2, was designed and constructed in Edinburgh, and is mounted on the 15-metre James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.

Initial results from the astronomical survey are being presented at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in Manchester.

Three-year project

We are delighted by these first deep SCUBA-2 images and look forward to more results over the next few years.

Professor James DunlopSchool of Physics and Astronomy

The three-year project will provide scientists with the clearest view to date of dust-enshrouded star-forming galaxies.

The camera works by detecting energy emitted when stars form.

Light detected from the galaxies left billions of years ago, so astronomers see the galaxies as they looked at the time.

With the SCUBA-2 camera, astronomers are able to study objects that existed as far back as 13 billion years ago, within one billion years after the Big Bang.

Multiple surveys

The SCUBA-2 Cosmology Legacy Survey targets areas of the sky that have already been studied in detail at different wavelengths by other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

Combining the SCUBA-2 and Hubble images enables astronomers to gain an unparalleled view of the most massive galaxies that existed early in the Universe’s history.

Edinburgh scientists and engineers worked hard to construct this revolutionary new instrument and, together with our international colleagues, we’re seeing the fruits of our efforts. With SCUBA-2 we can study the most violently star-forming galaxies in the young Universe, and slowly but surely start to understand how the primitive cosmos evolved into the universe we live in today.

Professor James DunlopSchool of Physics and Astronomy