New device will investigate Milky Way's origins

New device will investigate Milky Way's origins


Scientists have supercharged one of Earth's most powerful telescopes with new technology that will reveal how our galaxy formed in unprecedented detail.

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The William Herschel Telescope (WHT) in La Palma, Spain will be able to survey 1,000 stars per hour until it has catalogued a total of five million.

A super-fast mapping device linked up to WHT will analyse the make-up of each star and the speed at which it travels.

It will show how our Milky Way galaxy was built up over billions of years.

Prof Gavin Dalton of Oxford University has spent more than a decade developing the instrument, known as 'Weave'.

He told me that he was "beyond excited" that it is ready to go.

"It's a fantastic achievement from a lot of people to make this happen and it's great to have it working," he said. "The next step is the new adventure, it's brilliant!"

Weave has been installed on the WHT, which sits high on a mountain top on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma. The name stands for WHT Enhanced Area Velocity Explorer - and that's exactly what it does.

It has 80,000 separate parts and is a miracle of engineering.

For each patch of sky the WHT is pointed at, astronomers identify the positions of a thousand stars. Weave's nimble robotic fingers then carefully place a fibre-optic - a light-transmitting tube - precisely on each location on a plate, pointing towards its corresponding star.