Mar 22, 2010    #030
Contact: Laura Byerley
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Local astronomer part of largest Hubble galaxy survey

UMKC's Daniel McIntosh to study early cosmic changes

In an ambitious new project with extraordinary access to the Hubble Space Telescope, a University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) astronomer will join a team peering deep into the universe in five different directions to document the early history of galaxy growth.

Daniel McIntosh, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Physics, and other team members will focus on understanding how galaxies grew when the universe was only 2 to 4 billion years old.

"I am keenly interested in catching galaxies in the act of growing by merging," said McIntosh, an expert on galaxy interactions. "Cosmic pileups between two or more galaxies are the most dramatic examples of how these huge star systems grow. We know galaxies merge into bigger systems, but we still need to understand how often galaxies of different shapes and sizes experience these growing pains."

By examining more than 250,000 galaxies, the project will offer the first comprehensive view of the structure and assembly of galaxies over the first third of cosmic time. It will also yield crucial data on the early formation of supermassive black holes and find distant supernovae important for understanding the accelerating expansion of the universe.

The project leader, Sandra Faber of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said the effort relies on Hubble's powerful new infrared camera, the Wide Field Camera 3, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The new survey was awarded a record 902 orbits, or three and a half months of observing time that will be spread out over the next two to three years.

"This is an effort to make the best use of Hubble while it is at the apex of its capabilities, providing major legacy data sets for the ages," said Faber.

Hubble offers astronomers a look back through time by observing light that has traveled across the universe - a journey requiring billions of years. McIntosh will study the part of the new survey designed to observe galaxies at distances that correspond to "look-back times" from about 11.5 billion to 9.5 billion years ago.

"The new data will allow us to answer important questions about how galaxies build up in mass," McIntosh said. "With these new insights, astronomers can test theories of galaxy formation and evolution."

Early findings should be available by the end of the year, and will be accessible to the entire astronomy community with no proprietary period for Faber's team to conduct their own analysis. The likely result will be a race among teams of scientists to publish the first results from this new treasure trove of data. But Faber said the project will yield enough data to keep astronomers busy for years to come.

For more information about the project, visit

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.


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