A team of researchers is nearing completion on a five-ton spectrometer that, once finalized, will allow astronomers to examine and analyze some of the oldest galaxies in the universe. Known as MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration), the device has been installed in the Keck I Telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, where it receives infrared light that the telescope collects. This allows MOSFIRE to sift through cosmic dust and see faraway objects whose light has been redshifted as a result of the universe's ongoing expansion.
According to project leader Ian S. McLean, director of UCLA's Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics, the spectrometer allows researchers to study "the most distant, faintest galaxies," some of which are upwards of 10 billion years old —meaning they were formed just a few billion years after the Big Bang. Additionally, MOSFIRE will enable McLean and his team to attain more detailed information on the formation of stars within our galaxy, the distribution of dark matter across the universe, and merging galaxies, among other phenomena.
Developed from scratch by a team of nearly two dozen professors and students, MOSFIRE is just the latest in a series of similar projects geared toward deep space analysis. The federally-funded, seven-year initiative ultimately cost $14 million to realize, and bore its first fruits on April 4th, when light from the Keck I Telescope was fed into MOSFIRE for the very first time, resulting in an image of two galaxies colliding (pictured above). The system is scheduled to undergo more testing and evaluation over the next two months, and should be in wider use by September.