Telescope's New Camera Seeks Orphan Stars

A new camera installed on the Burrell Schmidt telescope is giving astronomers a better view of mysterious orphan stars—and may help scientists better understand how nearby clusters of galaxies form and evolve.

The Burrell Schmidt Telescope was originally built in 1939 and is housed at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

The Burrell Schmidt Telescope was originally built in 1939 and is housed at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. Photo: NOAO/AURA/NSF

This spring, Case Western Reserve University astronomer Paul Harding, Ph.D., led the design and installation of the new camera at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. He says the telescope can now bring into view the ultra-faint sea of stars, which have been orphaned by their host galaxy. These stars are located in the Virgo cluster of galaxies, a cluster of more than 2,000 galaxies.

Orphan stars are so named because they have been or are being separated from their parent galaxies. This happens when galaxies in a cluster collide. What results is called “intracluster light.” This unique starlight, which is a thousand times more faint than the night sky, was discovered three years ago by Case Western Reserve astronomer Chris Mihos, Ph.D.

The Case Western Reserve-owned telescope’s new camera will help determine the color of Virgo’s orphan stars, says Harding. “Younger stars are usually bluer,” he explains. “If we can measure the color of the light, we can learn about the stars’ ages.”

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