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Scientists around the world visit NMSU's Apache Point Observatory

Date: 04/12/2011

Apache Point Observatory recently had an invasion - but not of the alien variety.


Scientists visiting Apache Point Observatory got to do hands-on work at the observatory. Here, scientists try their hand at the plug plate, where fiber optic cables are assembled into cartridges that go on the telescope at night. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

The New Mexico State University-operated facility hosted more than 90 members of the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey team, part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, for the group's annual meeting.

During the three-day visit, March 24-26, the team met to discuss current and future science to explore using Apache Point, and also toured the observatory. This is the third annual meting of BOSS. Previous meetings have been held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Paris.

"This is truly an international collaboration," said Mark Klaene, site operations manager. "Of the 93 people we had here, 32 of them were from countries other than the U.S. - Brazil, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany make up the majority. This really is their opportunity ... for them to meet face to face. It may be their only opportunity to do that."

The visiting scientists discussed the various scientific aspects of the data they have collected in the past year, as well as how they are processing the data and what they have discovered so far. They also saw firsthand the different operations happening daily at the site facility.

BOSS is part of SDSS-III, launched in 2008.

René Walterbos, a professor in the Department of Astronomy and also the chair for Astrophysical Research Consortium Board of Governors, said the goal of BOSS is to map out the distances to distant galaxies - and even more distant quasars - to study the large-scale structure of the universe, which reflects an imprint of the very early conditions of the universe after the Big Bang.

"The whole point of this meeting is to establish new collaborations and to discover from each other methods they can use to analyze the data," Walterbos said. "This is wonderful. They come away with a new appreciation for how well this observatory is working."

For many of the visiting scientists, this was the first - and possibly only - time they were able to visit Apache Point and see the 2.5-meter telescope that is central to the work they are doing.

The other components of SDSS-III are: the Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Exploration (SEGUE-2), the APO Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), and the Multi-object APO Radial Velocity Exoplanet Large-area Survey (MARVELS).

SEGUE-2 concentrates on mapping the outer Milky Way, continuing the first phase of the project, which mapped the structure and constituents of the disk, thick disk and halo of our galaxy. The APOGEE project looks into the inner galaxy, a region otherwise obscured by interstellar dust, through the use of infrared spectroscopy. Researchers aim to discover extrasolar planetary systems by precision radial velocities through MARVELS. These measurements should also provide new insights into stellar pulsations and variability.

"It's (been) a real treat to have them," Klaene said. "We love being able to show off the facility, and also for them to have a better understanding of what we do. I think it's a fantastic opportunity for them, and it's an equally great opportunity for us."

For more information on BOSS and SDSS-III or Apache Point Observatory, visit http://www.sdss3.org/ or http://www.apo.nmsu.edu.

Written by Audry Olmsted.



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