Friday, March 26, 2010

Tennessee State University Creates New VISION for Telescopes with $600,000 National Science Foundation Grant

Tennessee State University researchers are creating a revolution in astrophysics as they develop a next-generation science camera to view stars from a new perspective.

A $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded to the TSU Division of Research and Sponsored Programs will fund the research to be monitored at the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer (NPOI) in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The Visible Imaging System for Interferometric Observations at NPOI (VISION) will be a powerful new camera for precision measurements with a spatial resolution 200 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, taking technological capabilities a step above current capacity, though only for bright objects.

Enabling the study of hierarchical triple star systems, VISION will serve as a versatile tool for high-resolution astronomical imaging, allowing stars to be imaged with several pixels directly across their structures. Dr. Matthew Muterspaugh, assistant professor in the TSU Center of Excellence in Information Systems and the Department of Mathematics and Physics, said the new technology will enhance the way we see stars in a multiple format.

“Most star systems are made up of more than one star and measuring the stars' orbits can be complicated to see. We have created the VISION system with the capabilities to see the orbit in full 3-D,” Muterspaugh said. “This will enable us to conduct new science by combining imaging techniques to get a full view of the objects and implement the latest generation of technology to see stars that have been well known for centuries in a newer and more precise way,” he explained.

The camera system will include advanced visible-wavelength detectors used featuring minimal to zero read-noise, allowing it to operate automatically without an external fringe tracking combiner or signi´Čücant sensitivity loss.  

Advances made with this project will also impact to the long-standing research Dr. Francis Fekel from the Center of Excellence of Information Systems has contributed to the evolution of study of these star systems using spectroscopy as a member of TSU’s legendary Automated Astronomy Group.

Muterspaugh believes that the research is a significant development to be added to the many contributions the University has made in the field of astronomy. “This new camera system will contribute to the legacy of research and discovery pioneered by TSU. The research will ultimately offer a greater understanding of the Sun and its ultimate effects on the Earth’s climate change as a direct connection to the ability to better observe and study the stars,” he said.

With funds for the next three years provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, TSU will assign a new post-doctoral researcher and four undergraduate students to the project.

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