Rensselaer Astrophysicist Chairs New Scientific Survey of Milky Way Galaxy

Aug 04, 2005

Heidi Newberg, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is chairing the science working group of a new project focused on mapping the Milky Way Galaxy’s structure and stellar makeup and compiling data on its origins and evolution.

The recently announced Milky Way survey project, the Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Exploration (SEGUE), is one of three new projects included in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey II (SDSS-II), a three-year extension of a scientific undertaking that will complete the largest survey of the universe.

Newberg will lead the scientific efforts of a collaborative group of researchers from 18 institutions around the world who are working on the SEGUE project.

“The SEGUE project will allow us for the first time to get a ‘big picture’ of the Milky Way Galaxy,” said Newberg. “Even the basic stellar components of the Milky Way are not yet understood in depth. Our coordinated effort to study the ages, chemical composition, and distribution of stars in our galaxy will yield major clues in understanding how our own galaxy and other galaxies formed.”

As part of SEGUE, researchers will record and analyze data from 4,000 square degrees of imaging by high-powered telescopes to yield positioning information on tens of millions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. More detailed information will be compiled on 240,000 stars in the galaxy by using each star’s spectra to identify properties such as age, velocity, and chemical composition. Data from completed SDSS projects also will be utilized to complement the SEGUE data.

Andromeda Galaxy


The Andromeda Galaxy, imaged here by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, is the closest galaxy of similar type to our own Milky Way. The individual stars visible in this image are stars in our galaxy that we look through to see out to Andromeda. Our goal is to map the stars in our galaxy so that we can imagine what our galaxy would look like as viewed from the outside. When we can do that, we will know much more about the structure of our own galaxy than we will ever be able to know about Andromeda.
— Heidi Newberg, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Photo Credit: Stephen Kent/Sloan Digital Sky Survey


Newberg said the SEGUE project will generate images, spectra, and associated data for use in follow-up work or as input data for space-based or large Earth-based telescopes. “SEGUE is the largest survey in operation that strives to map the large-scale distribution of stars in the Milky Way,” she said. “We will use the information we obtain about the stars to create a more accurate 3-D representation of our galaxy.”

Newberg’s current research is related to understanding the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy by using stars as tracers of the galactic halo and the debris from smaller galaxies from which it forms. She uses photometric and spectroscopic measurements of stars to determine distances and physical properties of large statistical samples to separate halo and disk components of the Milky Way.

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Explore further: Europe hoists first navigation satellites post mislaunch

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Automation offers big solution to big data in astronomy

Mar 24, 2015

It's almost a rite of passage in physics and astronomy. Scientists spend years scrounging up money to build a fantastic new instrument. Then, when the long-awaited device finally approaches completion, the ...

Chemical fingerprints of ancient supernovae found

Mar 23, 2015

A Carnegie-based search of nearby galaxies for their oldest stars has uncovered two stars in the Sculptor dwarf galaxy that were born shortly after the galaxy formed, approximately 13 billion years ago. The ...

Recommended for you

More evidence for groundwater on Mars

10 hours ago

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ...

Is the universe finite or infinite?

12 hours ago

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.