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AAO Press Releases

Tuesday 2 July 1996

New capabilities for the Anglo-Australian Telescope

At a remote, dark site in NSW, astronomers from the Anglo-Australian Observatory have taken their first observations using new equipment which is ready to revolutionise astronomy.

The new equipment for the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the "Two Degree Field" facility (or 2dF), has been under development at the AAO for the last six years. It incorporates several innovative high precision technologies and is by far the largest and most complex instrument of its type to be built anywhere in the world.

Dr Russell Cannon, Director of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, announced the success of the first observations today at the annual conference of the Astronomical Society of Australia in Perth.

'The 2dF will enable Australian and British astronomers to carry out scientific research projects never before possible', Dr Cannon said. 'It will provide a unique tool for astronomers to find answers to fundamental questions about the structure of the Universe'.

One of the most important research programs to be carried out is to measure the 'redshifts', and therefore the distances, of a quarter of a million galaxies. This program will reveal the true three-dimensional structure of the Universe and is by far the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken.

The 2dF uses optical fibres and a computer controlled robot to enable 400 faint stars or galaxies to be observed simultaneously, over an unprecedentedly wide field of view. It therefore makes the AAT very much more powerful than before, or compared with any other large telescope in the world, for many research projects. To be successful, the robot has to place each fibre to a very high degree of accuracy, taking only a few seconds to do so.

These new observations made with 2dF were the first scientific data to be recorded with this new instrument. Analysis of the data has shown that the instrument has been built well within the rigorous specifications, confirming that the demands of longterm redshift surveys can be met.

The 2dF represents a turning point in the future direction of research in optical astronomy. It is a significant achievement for scientists and engineers in this country, who have pioneered many of the technologies, and is a credit to the scientific enterprise of the Australian astronomical community.

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Roger Bell
01 Jan 1998