Lowell Astronomer and Project Team Receive Precious Time with Herschel Space Observatory

Press Release From: Lowell Observatory
Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011

image The LITTLE THINGS (LT) dwarf-galaxy research team recently received 12.3 hours of priority 1 time with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, a far-infrared instrument. LT co-investigator Dr. Deidre Hunter of Lowell Observatory says this is only the second and last call for proposals on the telescope, as it will soon be decommissioned.

With this time, the LT team will measure radiation from dust to determine the amount and distribution of the dust and the effect of its presence, or lack thereof, on star formation in galaxies with very low amounts of heavy elements, according to Dr. Hunter. "This is the part that is similar to the early universe -- the lack of heavy elements," she explains. The team will make these measurements by using two of the Herschel's three instruments: the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE).

The LT team also had a successful priority 1 proposal in the first call for Herschel proposals in 2009. Additional Lowell researchers have or are currently involved in other projects utilizing Herschel, which was launched in 2009 and has a nominal routine operational lifetime of three years, according to ESA.

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About Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory ( is a private, non-profit research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. The Observatory has been the site of many important findings including the discovery of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led ultimately to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell's 22 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes about 80,000 visitors each year to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, Arizona for a variety of tours, telescope viewing, and special programs. Lowell Observatory currently has four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark sky site east of Flagstaff, and is testing and commissioning a 4-meter class research telescope, the Discovery Channel Telescope.


The LITTLE THINGS Survey, or Local Irregulars That Trace Luminosity Extremes (LITTLE) and The HI (neutral hydrogen) Nearby Galaxy Survey (THINGS), involves a worldwide team of 17 researchers who have assembled a complete dataset on 41 relatively normal, nearby gas-rich dwarf-irregular galaxies, tracing their stellar populations, gas content, dynamics, and star formation indicators. By mapping the gasses in these diffuse galaxies, the team can try to discern the many processes of star formation, which are thought to be similar in such galaxies to what they were right after the Big Bang. LITTLE THINGS brings together deep, high spatial and high-spectral resolution HI-line maps with optical, ultraviolet, and infrared data of the 41 dwarf-irregular galaxies, covering nearly the full range of galactic parameters seen in dwarf galaxies. Data collected at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array near Socorro, NM, shows clouds, shells, and turbulent structures that are important for star formation. A special session concerning LITTLE THINGS research results will be held in January at the American Astronomical Society's 219th meeting in Austin, TX. More information on LITTLE THINGS:

About Herschel Space Observatory

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory (formerly called Far Infrared and Sub-millimeter Telescope or FIRST) has the largest single mirror ever built for a space telescope. At 3.5-meters in diameter, the mirror collects long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. In addition, Herschel is the only space observatory to cover a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimeter. Herschel's mission objectives are to study the formation of galaxies in the early Universe and their subsequent evolution; investigate the creation of stars and their interaction with the interstellar medium; observe the chemical composition of the atmospheres and surfaces of comets, planets and satellites; and examine the molecular chemistry of the Universe. More information on Herschel:

Chuck Wendt / Tom Vitron
+1 928-233-3201 / +1 928-233-3260 /

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