Press Release

NASA chooses Imperial team to study the evolution of galaxies

By SpaceRef Editor
December 8, 2000
Filed under ,

A team of astrophysicists at Imperial College has been selected by NASA to participate in the first new mission of its Origins Program, a project which will seek to answer: Where did we come from? Are we alone?
The researchers will make their observations using the new Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), set for launch in July 2002. The team will study the formation of galaxies and stars with the space-based telescope, as part of the SWIRE (SIFTF Wide area Infrared Extragalactic) Survey (see notes to editor 2).
The SWIRE survey will use both SIRTF infrared cameras to cover an area of the sky equivalent to about 500 full Moons, or 100 square degrees of sky. Images produced will help astronomers study the evolution of dusty galaxies up to 10 billion light-years from Earth. The survey will determine whether black holes are the primary energy source in bright distant galaxies, or whether massive bursts of star formation can provide the necessary light.
The project will be led by Dr Carol Lonsdale of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, co-investigator of the project and Head of the Astrophysics Group, Department of Physics, Imperial College, said: "It is very exciting that our survey has been selected for the SIRTF Legacy programme, against very strong competition. This will be a major step forward in our understanding of the far infrared universe and will pave the way for the European Space Agency’s FIRST (Far Infrared and Submillimetre Telescope) Mission in 2007."
The survey will be partly done in the areas which Professor
Rowan-Robinson’s group surveyed with the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), from which they already have extensive follow-up data at radio, submillimetre, optical and X-ray wavelengths. The astrophysics group has an extensive scientific programme utilising the ISO. By far the largest of these is the European Large Area ISO Survey (ELAIS). The five European co-investigators of the NASA Origins Program are all from the ELAIS consortium which is led by Professor Rowan-Robinson.
Six teams in total were chosen by NASA for the SIRTF Legacy Science Program from 28 proposals submitted by astronomers worldwide. The Program will involve American-led teams of scientists from around the world. These projects will utilise 3,160 hours of SIRTF observing time, primarily in the first year of the mission, to conduct large and coherent science investigations. The data from these projects will create substantial databases that will be invaluable for archival research, and in planning subsequent programs on SIRTF or on other space-borne, airborne, and ground-based observatories.
Detailed observational planning for the six projects will be conducted throughout 2001, and the actual observations will begin a few months after SIRTF is launched.
For further information please contact:
Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson
Head of the Astrophysics Group
Department of Physics
Imperial College
Tel: 020 7594 7530
Susie Renshaw
Press Office
Imperial College
Tel: 020 7594 6701
Notes to editors:
1) Further information about SIRTF and the Legacy Science Program is   available at:
2) The groups involved in the SWIRE Legacy survey are California Institute   of Technology, Imperial College, University of Sussex, Padua Observatory,   the Astronomical Institute of the Canaries, QMW London, the US National   Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cornell University, University of California   at San Diego and CEA Saclay.
3) Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson is Head of the Astrophysics Group,   Department of Physics, at Imperial College. For further information see   the Group’s website at:
4) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine is an independent   constituent part of the University of London. Founded in 1907, the   College teaches a full range of science, engineering, medical and   management disciplines at the highest level. The College is the largest   applied science and technology university institution in the UK, with one   of the largest annual turnovers (£330 million in 1998-99) and research   incomes (£122 million in 1998-99). It is consistently rated in the top   three UK university institutions for research quality, with an aggregate   score of 6.09 out of 7 in the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise. For   further information see:

SpaceRef staff editor.