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July 11, 2002

University joins Sloan Digital Sky Survey project

Pitt joins Sloan Digital Sky Survey project

Pitt has joined the most ambitious astronomical research project ever undertaken, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), as a participating institution.

The SDSS will map precisely one-quarter of the sky, producing a detailed image of that section and determining the positions and brightness of more than 100 million celestial objects. The survey also will measure the distance to a million of the nearest galaxies, creating a three-dimensional picture of the universe through a volume 100 times larger than that explored to date.

Upon completion of the study in five to seven years, the amount of information gathered is expected to rival the contents of the entire Library of Congress.

"Joining the SDSS puts Pitt in the forefront of modern observational astronomy," says Andrew Connolly, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Pitt. Connolly, who has been working on the SDSS for the past eight years, investigates how galaxies form and how gravity causes them to cluster in the sky. He has developed techniques for estimating galaxy properties that could reveal their age and how they evolved.

"The SDSS will provide Pitt with its own virtual telescope," says Connolly. "The data from the SDSS provide a census of stars and galaxies within the local and distant universe. Students, postdocs and faculty will be able to 'dial up' parts of the sky and have the images and catalogs of sources directly at hand.

"With such a large number of sources, we will have the opportunity to better understand how the universe formed and even to try to find new classes of stars and galaxies," Connolly adds.

In addition to Pitt, participating institutions include the University of Chicago; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; Institute for Advanced Study; the Japan Participation Group; Johns Hopkins University; Los Alamos National Laboratory; the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany; the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany; New Mexico State University; Princeton University; the United States Naval Observatory, and the University of Washington.

ARC operates the SDSS telescopes at Apache Point Observatory, N.M., with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the participating institutions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Japanese Monbukagakusho and the Max Planck Society.

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