Milky Way to Be Explored w/ Au’s $13 Million Instrument

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By Athena Yenko | April 17, 2014 6:24 PM EST

Australia will be exploring the Milky Way to identify its origins soon with its new $13 million instrument, HERMES (the High Efficiency and Resolution Multi-Element Spectrograph), launched by  Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) at Coonabarabran.

HERMES is designed to gather and identify light from up to 400 stars or galaxies simultaneously.

The development of HERMES is a multinational project involving 70 astronomers from 17 institutions in eight countries, led by Professor Ken Freeman from the Australian National University, Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from the University of Sydney and Dr Gayandhi De Silva from the AAO.

The Australian Government donated $8 million from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Education Investment Fund for the completion of HERMES.

HERMES works through fed light along optical fibres. The fibres were installed by a robotic technology created by AAO. The colours of the fed light will then be scattered into spectra which translates motion and chemical composition of stars in the Milky Way.

"Australia is a world leader in astronomy. This new instrument will allow some of our greatest scientists to make new breakthroughs in this important field. The AAO's Anglo-Australian Telescope is world-renowned for its record of discovery and this new instrument, HERMES, will ensure it continues to lead the way. Using HERMES, astronomers will be able to analyse light from more than a million stars in our galaxy, helping them map the age and movements of the stars and unravel how the Milky Way formed. HERMES has been developed over five years by scientists and engineers at the AAO, and will be used by scientists from all over the world," Mr Macfarlane said in a statement.

AAO, with laboratories in Chile and Hawaii, holds a record of world-leading technological innovations with robotic control systems and other highly advanced sensors.

 "Our participation in world-class research like this, and the international collaboration on the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, has enormous potential to build skills across many fields of technology that will create opportunities for Australian industry, including in the emerging areas of big data and high performance computing," Mr Macfarlane added.

 "Australia has a rich heritage of research and innovation in science. The Australian Government recognises the important role science plays in our community. This landmark astronomical survey is a prime example of the world-leading collaborations made possible by Australian science and innovation." 

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