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Rix, Hans-Walter
Hans-Walter Rix
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Markus Pössel
Markus Pössel
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New astronomical survey to monitor the entire sky

May 03, 2017

A new sky survey, the Sloan digital Sky Survey V (SDSS-V) has received funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, allowing the survey to go ahead in 2020. The survey is led by Juna Kollmeier of the Carnegie Institution for Science, with project scientist Hans-Walter Rix of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. SDSS-V will be the first survey on Earth to take spectra of objects across the entire sky, and will do so repeatedly.  This will create an immense treasure trove of data that allows for detailed statistical studies of astronomical objects and their variability.

<span>Symbolic rendition of the main areas of research for SDSS-V, from left to right: mapping the properties of stars, of our home galaxy, and of the large-scale structure of the universe.</span> Zoom Image
Symbolic rendition of the main areas of research for SDSS-V, from left to right: mapping the properties of stars, of our home galaxy, and of the large-scale structure of the universe. [less]

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded a $16 million grant to create the first spectroscopic survey to observe, and monitor, objects across the entire sky. This will allow astronomers to monitor millions of objects and their changes over time, and ushering in a host of new discoveries. The data obtained with SDSS-V promise new insights into the origin of supernovae, the relation between stars and planetary systems, the formation of galaxies and the growth of black holes.

The first Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) from 2000 to 2005 revolutionized digital astronomy. Before SDSS, researchers had based any studies of a specific class of astronomical object, such as certain type of galaxy or a specific type of star, on at most a few hundred objects or observations. And more likely than not, these observations would have been from different telescopes, requiring considerable effort to allow for systematic comparisons and statistical inferences.

Large amounts of high-quality data

With the first SDSS, this mode of research changed dramatically. Using a dedicated 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico with a state-of-the art camera and spectroscope, the survey observed and catalogued galaxies and stars over half the Northern hemisphere, taking spectra of more than 700,000 astronomical objects. Suddenly, the astronomy community had access to high-quality observational data taken with under uniform conditions, providing thousands or even hundreds of thousands samples for statistical studies of the most interesting kinds of celestial objects!

Over the years, as the survey grew and was extended, SDSS in its various incarnations mapped the three-dimensional positions of more than a million galaxies and hundreds of thousands of quasars, creating the deepest map yet of our universe. It mapped the motion of more than a quarter million of stars in our Milky Way, yielding uniquely valuable data about the structure and dynamics of our home galaxy. It searched for distant supernovae as well as for giant planets orbiting other stars.

SDSS was also a pioneer of open science, publishing its images, spectra and catalogue data in a ready-to-use format, and triggering hundreds of diverse follow-up projects by various groups around the world. All in all, the SDSS surveys have become one of the most influential projects in astronomical research, setting standards for the way that state-of-the-art surveys are carried out.

SDSS-V: Repeated all-sky spectroscopy

The new phase SDSS-V is directed by Juna Kollmeier of the Carnegie Institution for Science. It will be supported by a consortium of 18 institutions, which includes the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The SDSS-V project scientist is Hans-Walter Rix, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

SDSS-V will be the first spectroscopic survey to look at the entire sky, using observatories in both hemispheres: the original SDSS telescope in New Mexico, and the Carnegie Institution's du Pont telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. With new spectroscopic technology, new measurements become possible – including spectroscopic studies ("integral field spectroscopy") of various regions of nearby galaxies.

Excitingly, SDSS-V will repeat its observations at various times, creating a rudimentary "movie" of the night sky that will show how astronomical objects vary over time – a mode of research that is, at this time, still unusual, and promises to unveil hitherto unknown astronomical phenomena.

Hans-Walter Rix says: "By surveying the sky rapidly and repeatedly like no spectroscopic survey has done before, SDSS-V will not only vastly improve the data to answer known unknown questions, but it can—perhaps more importantly—venture into astrophysical terra incognita."

Background information

Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and the Participating Institutions. SDSS acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah.

SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration.

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