Press Release

DON’T PANIC – More supernovae on the way!

By SpaceRef Editor
July 14, 2003
Filed under , ,

Recent near-infrared images from a new
camera called PANIC (Persson’s Auxilliary Nasmyth Infrared Camera) on the
6.5-meter Clay telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, confirm that
the camera and telescope hold a promising future for understanding the
nature of dark energy, exploring the formation and evolution of distant
galaxies, and identifying protoplanetary material around young stars.

Installed on the Clay telescope of the Magellan Project, PANIC can image
some of the faintest targets ever observed. Under the best conditions, the
immense light-gathering power and superb image quality of the Clay
telescope will be used to observe supernovae in extremely distant galaxies,
observations that will help to reveal the nature of the mysterious dark
energy that comprises the majority of the energy in the universe. The
nature of this dark energy is one of the outstanding questions in modern
astrophysics. “PANIC’s superb image quality can measure distant supernovae
extremely precisely, measurements that are crucial for understanding the
nature of the dark energy,” states Dr. Eric Persson, Carnegie Observatories
astronomer and principal designer of the instrument.

Among the first objects PANIC has imaged is the Antennae – the famous pair
of interacting galaxies laced with many young, massive star clusters and
dust. Using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and PANIC, the
PANIC team made a composite image that demonstrates the excellent image
quality of the camera and reveals red star clusters barely visible in the
HST data. “Near-infrared observations with PANIC can see through clouds of
gas and dust that obscure our normal vision. They open up a whole new
window to study star formation, distant galaxies, and supernovae,” noted
Dr. Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories. In the second
image, using a filter that isolates light from molecular hydrogen, the team
viewed the planetary nebula NGC 3132 — a remnant gas shell from an old red

PANIC is the first near-infrared camera built for the Magellan Project, a
consortium with over 300 astronomers from five institutions: the Carnegie
Observatories, Harvard University, the University of Arizona, the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan. It
was built at Carnegie over the last two years and began operations in Chile
in April.

High Resolution PANIC images available at this link:

All of these images were obtained during the commissioning run for PANIC,
which was in April 2003.

Caption 1 under “additional images”

This color image of the Antennae is a composite of Hubble Space Telescope
(HST) and PANIC data. The Antennae are pair of interacting galaxies with
many young, massive star clusters and a great deal of dust. Young stars are
very blue and formed in this galactic collision, which also resulted in a
lot of dust, which blocks more blue light (shorter wavelengths) than red
light (longer
wavelengths). For this reason, regions behind a lot of dust are much easier
to see at longer, red wavelengths. In this picture the shorter wavelength
HST data was used for the blue and green color channels, while the PANIC
data (longer, near-infrared data) was used for the red color channel. The
blue star clusters, thus, really appear blue, while the very dusty regions,
which are much easier to see in the near-infrared, really appear red. Note
that toward the bottom of the image there is a large, red star cluster,
barely visible in the HST data, while quite obvious in the PANIC frame
indicating that it is buried under a great deal of dust.

Caption 2

The three-panel image of the Antennae displays the three images used to
make the color picture. The first two images are from HST, while the third
is the image from PANIC. The main thing to note on this image is that the
image quality, or sharpness, is nearly the same for PANIC and HST. PANIC is
thus able to resolve sources nearly as well as HST, at least under the best
conditions (when the atmosphere is the most stable).

Caption 3
The picture of the planetary nebula NGC 3132 was obtained through a filter
that is sensitive to emission from molecular hydrogen, the most common
molecule in the universe. A planetary nebula is actually the outer envelope
of an old star that has been ejected into space. The red filaments are the
remnants of the star’s outer envelope, which are now glowing because of the
light from the hot remnant (white dwarf) of the original star.

Caption 4
This image shows the PANIC image of molecular hydrogen and an HST image
that is sensitive to emission from oxygen. The relative quality of these
images also indicates that PANIC is capable of producing very high quality

The Magellan Project is a collaboration of the Magellan Consortium, which
designed, built, and uses the twin 6.5-meter Baade and Clay Telescopes at
Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The Carnegie Institution of
Washington (,a pioneering force in basic
scientific research since 1902, is a private, nonprofit organization with
six research departments in the U.S.: Plant Biology, Global Ecology,
Embryology, the Geophysical Laboratory, the Department of Terrestrial
Magnetism, and the Carnegie Observatories.


Tina McDowell

Carnegie Institution

1530 P. St., NW

Washington, D.C. 20005



Paul Martini at the Observatories

813 Santa Barbara St.

Pasadena, CA 91101


SpaceRef staff editor.