ARCHIVED - Canadian Astronomy Achievements Force Re-writing of Textbooks

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November 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Observations by the Gemini Multi Object Spectograph.An international team of astronomers has discovered massive galaxies during an epoch where, according to established astronomy theory, there should only be young, newly-forming galaxies. These striking results were made possible by innovative NRC-designed technologies.

Just as certainly as textbooks are written so, too, are they meant to be revised in the face of new findings. Based on new evidence from an international astronomy project known as the Gemini Deep Deep Survey (GDDS), longstanding views about the beginnings of our universe and the way galaxies are formed are in for a big change.

Astronomy observes and measures signals that originated billions of years ago, a task which becomes more and more complicated the further back one goes. Distance makes signals faint plus there is interference due to the Earth's atmosphere which limits the ability to accurately observe these signals.

The goal of the GDDS is to peer back into a point of time approximately 9 – 11 billion years ago when the Universe was only 20 – 40% of its current size. Theory suggests that, during this period, one should find relatively young and actively forming galaxies. The well established hierarchical galaxy formation model holds that massive features only formed later in time from the assembly of smaller galaxies. Instead, the survey has discovered that massive galaxies already existed between 8 and 11 billion years ago. Using a more modern parallel, if GDDS were an archaeology project, it would be similar to finding a transistor radio in an unopened Egyptian tomb – such an advanced technology simply shouldn't be there. Results from the study raise fundamental questions about theoretical/cosmological models for the early Universe, and about the role of cold, dark matter in the formation of the Universe.

Artist's rendition of the formation of the universe.
Artist's rendition of the formation of the universe.

The Gemini Multi Object Spectrograph (GMOS), designed and built by NRC, the U.K. Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh and Durham University, has already allowed the Gemini telescope to observe objects at the current limits of technology.

To allow the international science team to observe beyond the technological limits of current ground-based telescopes, engineers and scientists at NRC developed – within a matter of months from concept to completion – a "Nod and Shuffle" technique for the GMOS instrument. Previously unattainable on a large-aperture telescope, this capability subtracts the effects of the sky background, and allows for spectra to be taken of otherwise unobservable objects. The technique involves spectroscopy of both an object and the surrounding blank sky, using delicate movements of the telescope (nodding) and precise shifting of electrons on the detector (shuffling) to obtain a combined spectrum from which the effects from Earth's atmosphere can be subtracted.

Science at Work for Canada, NRC's 2004-2005 Annual Report

Science at Work for Canada
NRC's 2004-2005 Annual Report

Success stories featured in the annual report highlight just a few of NRC's achievements and their impact on the lives of Canadians.
Take a few minutes to read some of NRC's stories!

NRC expertise in designing the next generation of astronomy equipment also has benefits for Canadian industry. Nanowave Technologies of Toronto is now building equipment designed by NRC for a next-generation radio astronomy project known as ALMA.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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