New space device to map origins of the Milky Way

New space device to map origins of the Milky Way

A new space exploration device designed to work with one of the world’s most powerful telescopes will provide scientists with unprecedented detail of the origins of the Milky Way, the galaxy that includes our solar system.

Combining with the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) on the Canary Island of La Palma, Weave (WHT Enhanced Area Velocity Explorer) will be able to survey a thousand stars per hour until it has catalogued five million.

Speaking to the BBC, Weave designer Professor Gavin Dalton, of Oxford University, explained: “We’ll be able to trace the galaxies that have been absorbed as the Milky Way has been built up over cosmic time, and see how each absorption triggers new star formation.”

Astronomers will be able to position a thousand fibre-optic cables on the main telescope, in effect turning each into a tiny telescope which then positions precisely on a star to collect the light from it. That information is then fed back to another instrument that maps the rainbow spectrum of light from each star thus revealing that star’s history.

Weave can complete this application for a thousand stars in a single hour, at which point the plate ‘flips’ and the next thousand stars can be surveyed.

Dr Marc Balcells, who is in overall charge of the project, told the BBC: “We have been hearing for decades that we are in a golden era of astronomy – but what the future awaits is a lot more important.

“Weave is going to be answering questions that astronomers have been trying to answer for decades such as how many pieces come together to make a big galaxy? And how many galaxies were united to make the Milky Way?”

Although Weave can survey up to five million stars, the scale of its task is daunting – there are an estimated 400 billion stars in the Milky Way – but it will give scientists unprecedented access to the early origins of the galaxy.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Thame

    That’s beautiful.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Aether: Issue 3 Feb 2023

Aether: Issue 2 Nov 2022

Aether: Issue 1 Aug 2022

Subscribe for free

Latest Testimonial

What a beautiful motto: Discoveries must be read and not just published. When I was contacted by Aether as a new digital service to share scientific and technological insights I had my doubts that this was really going to be according to what I call the “open source & makers’ spirit”: knowledge should be free and it is there to be shared.

Well, Aether is faithful to its motto and shares discoveries freely. It has been a pleasure to collaborate for the interview and subsequent article. It has been greatly self satisfying to see how the interview was professionally and truthfully redacted and then published. Sharing thoughts and sparks for discussions is fundamental to the progress of society. Your journal offers clarity and brevity and I believe it provides the sparks to ignite any reader whether academic or not into action.

Dr Maria-Cristina Ciocci
Co-founder and Manager of non-profit organisation De Creative STEM,GirlsInSTEM