Thursday, 29 March 2012

Quite a lot of stars

UKIRT made the news overnight. A press release was made at the National Astronomy Meeting in the UK entitled "Milky Way image reveals detail of a billion stars" which has led to dozens of news items around the world including this one at the BBC which was the number one most-read article for a while and is still the most shared as I write this. This is just one result of the work we have been doing for the last seven years (UKIDSS) and in this case shared with the VISTA survey which is doing an infrared survey of the southern hemisphere.

The picture above is just a tiny fraction of the sky covered in the image. You can play around with the entire billion-star image yourself by going to the online interactive tool hosted by the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. It was images similar to this that first attracted me to astronomy although back in those days they were optical rather than infrared! Still, just gazing at pictures of thousands of stars and nebulae as a little kid made me wonder just exactly what was out there and here I am, er, just a few years later, still wondering!

To put things in context, even though a billion stars sounds a rather large number, it's still just a fraction of the stars in our own Galaxy in which we believe there are 200 to 400 billion stars. Add to that there are probably about 200 billion galaxies in the universe you hopefully start to appreciate what an enormous place we live in and that we are literally a tiny and likely insignificant speck of dust in the grand scheme.

Incidentally I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that the UKIDSS consortium was recently awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Group Award. In another twist of fate, and one completely unexpected, the consortium agreed with the RAS to have a few individually named certificates made to "core" members of the project. The list includes some people who work at the UKIRT or worked there until recently: Andy Adamson, Luca Rizzi and Watson Varricatt. They all thoroughly deserve the award and certificate. Apparently I'm getting one as well although I'm not sure why, but I get to pick it up in May when I next visit Edinburgh. That'll be something nice to look forward to!

1 comment:

Beep said...

I think you and UKIRT both deserve the positive recognition !