‘Super-cool’ observatory to explore hidden universe

“Super-cool” observatory to explore hidden universe
Credit: Cardiff University

A space mission designed to solve fundamental questions about
how galaxies and forming planetary systems grow and evolve
will be considered by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The project, named SPICA (Space Infrared Telescope for
Cosmology and Astrophysics), will involve scientists from the
University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, and will be
considered by ESA as a candidate for its next medium-class
, with launch envisaged at the end
of the next decade. The joint European-Japanese observatory
will be developed over the next two years together with two
other candidate missions.

Unlike visible light, infrared radiation is not absorbed by the
dust that pervades the – as a result, observations in the
infrared can unveil the hidden universe, allowing astronomers
to see deep into the inner reaches of galaxies, star forming
clouds and planet forming systems.

The SPICA observatory will have a 2.5-metre diameter telescope
cooled to only a few degrees above absolute zero temperature to
reduce the radiation emitted by the telescope itself to the
absolute minimum. Equipped with extremely sensitive detectors,
it will be able to study objects out to the farthest reaches of
the universe.

Cardiff University scientists will join forces with almost 20
intuitions from 15 countries around the world to build one of
SPICA’s instruments, called SAFARI.

Cardiff scientists will provide key optical components to
select and control the wavelengths of light transmitted by the
instrument, and work with Cambridge University on developing
part of SAFARI’s superconducting detector system.

Professor Matt Griffin, Head of the School of Physics and
Astronomy and UK spokesperson for the SAFARI team, said:
“Selection by ESA for this study is an important milestone for
SPICA. This observatory promises a huge leap in our ability to
study the Universe. With its super-cool and ultrasensitive detectors it will be
hundreds of times more sensitive than previous infrared

Professor Peter Ade, who is also based at the School of Physics
and Astronomy and leads the Cardiff technical programme said:
“Cardiff’s unique experience and expertise, developed in
working on previous infrared space missions, is essential to
make SPICA possible. We expect this intensive two-year study to
demonstrate that this great is ready to fly.”

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