The first few images taken by a new near-infrared camera — LUCIFER 1 — is helping astronomers observe the faintest and most distant objects in the universe that are usually opaque to visible light.
The new instrument, built by a consortium of German institutes, provides the scientists with a powerful tool to gain spectacular insights into the universe — from the Milky Way to extremely distant galaxies.
The innovative design of LUCIFER 1, that has been mounted on the world’s largest optical telescope the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) at its focus points, allows astronomers to look into the unprecedented details like the star forming regions that are commonly hidden by dust clouds.
The first image by the instrument shows a stellar nursery in the Milky Way about 8,000 light years from Earth. It depicts the region where stars are born.
Usually such clouds are opaque to visible light. But the infrared light detected by LUCIFER could penetrate these dust clouds.
Other images taken by the instrument show the starburst galaxy NGC 1569, which is forming stars at a rate that is 100 times faster than what is typically observed in the Milky Way.
The glowing red clouds of dust enshrouding newly formed stars are made visible due to the LUCIFER’s sensitive infrared vision.
These images give the scientists an idea of the instrument’s enormous potential, the University of Arizona said in a release.
“With the large light-gathering power of the LBT, astronomers are now able to collect the spectral fingerprints of the faintest and most distant objects in the universe,” said LBT Director Richard Green, a professor of astronomy at the University’s Steward Observatory.
The instrument is remarkably flexible and combines a large field of view with high resolution. It provides three exchangeable cameras for imaging and spectroscopy in different resolutions according to observational requirements.
LUCIFER is an acronym for ‘Large Binocular Telescope Near-infrared Utility with Camera and Integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research’.