Portsmouth scientists mark the end of worldwide astronomical project

A SDSS picture of the Milky Way. Picture: Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital, Inc. and Jonathan Bird (Vanderbilt University)
A SDSS picture of the Milky Way. Picture: Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital, Inc. and Jonathan Bird (Vanderbilt University)

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SCIENTISTS from Portsmouth today marked the end of an era in a massive worldwide astronomical project which has so far mapped millions of stars and galaxies.

A total of 14 cosmologists from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation have played a major role in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) throughout its 2,000 nights of skywatching.

Today, the SDSS issued the final data from the third survey. Called, ‘Data Release 12’ it contains measurements of the properties of nearly half a billion stars and galaxies, making it one of the largest and richest databases in the history of astronomy.

After a decade of design and construction, the SDSS began mapping the cosmos in 1998, using the dedicated 2.5-metre Sloan Foundation Telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

SDSS-III includes 51 institutions and 1,000 scientists. The University of Portsmouth is the only full UK institutional member of the SDSS-III.

Prof Claudia Maraston, from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: ‘For each object that we observe, we’re measuring several thousand light intensities at different wavelengths. We can pick out the light produced by particular kinds of atoms and molecules, which lets us measure the motions and chemical compositions of stars and galaxies.’