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350,000 stellar systems to be mapped by Warwick astronomers

Astrophysicists from the University of Warwick have joined the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-V) – one of the most-successful and influential surveys in the history of astronomy – making Warwick the first UK institution to be formally part of the project.

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As SDSS-V begins a groundbreaking mission to map the entire sky, Professor Boris Gaensicke of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group will lead an observational survey of all stars within 325 light years of the Earth - encompassing 350,000 systems, many of which are likely to host planetary systems.

The survey led by Professor Gaensicke will provide the first accurate census of the solar neighbourhood, and will lead to a detailed understanding of the formation, life, and death of stars and planets.

SDSS-V, directed by Juna Kollmeier of the Carnegie Institution for Science, has created the most-detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever made, with deep multi-colour images of one third of the sky, and spectra for more than three million astronomical objects.

Following a $16 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, SDSS-V will move forward with mapping the entire sky – kickstarting an all-sky spectroscopic survey for a next wave of discovery, anticipated to start in 2020.

Professor Gaensicke, of the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, commented:

"Receiving funding from the Sloan Foundation is fantastic news, and secures that SDSS-V will be one of the major experiments in astronomy into the 2020s. I am thrilled about the opportunities that the new technologies that will be added to the survey will enable.

“Surveying all stars in the solar neighbourhood is a huge endeavour, we will observe about one thousand times more stars than any comparable project before. Using this data, we will get to know in detail the properties of stars and their planets across all ages and masses.

“Compare this to meeting a few dozen people in the pub, and next going to meet everybody in a full football stadium."

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Paul L. Joskow, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, commented:

“For more than 20 years, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has defined excellence in astronomy. SDSS-V continues that august tradition by combining cutting-edge research, international collaboration, technological innovation, and cost-effective grassroots governance. The Sloan Foundation is proud to be a core supporter of SDSS-V.”

The survey operates out of both Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, home of the survey’s original 2.5-meter telescope, and Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where it uses Carnegie’s du Pont telescope.

The project’s fifth generation is building its consortium, but already has support from 18 institutions including the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, University of Utah, the Israeli Centers of Research Excellence, the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Georgia State University, University of Wisconsin, Caltech, New Mexico State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, University Washington, Vanderbilt University, University of Warwick, Leibniz Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam, KULeuven, Monash University, and Yale University, with additional partnership agreements underway.

Notes:

Image 1: Professor Boris Gaensicke, credit University of Warwick - click for high res

Image 2: This artist's impression shows a cutaway view of the parts of the Universe that SDSS-V will study. SDSS-V will study millions of stars to create a map of the entire Milky Way. Farther out, the survey will get the most detailed view yet of the largest nearby galaxies like Andromeda in the Northern hemisphere and the Large Magellanic Cloud in the Southern hemisphere. Even farther out, the survey will measure quasars, bright points of light powered by matter falling into giant black holes. Credit Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science/SDSS

Further information contact:

Luke Walton, International Press Manager

+44 (0) 7824 540 863

+44 (0) 2476 150 868

L dot Walton dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk