Japan's Subaru Telescope will train 2,400 eyes on the sky to analyze "cosmic rainbows"

The new observatory will "fuel Big Data Astronomy" for years to come.
Chris Young
The new Subaru Telescope instrument.
The new Subaru Telescope instrument.


Japan's Subaru Telescope team just introduced a new instrument that will utilize roughly 2,400 fiberoptic cables to capture light from the stars with immense precision. The spectroscopy telescope is expected to start operations in 2024.

In a press statement, the National Astronomical Observatory (NAO) of Japan said, "the ability to observe thousands of objects simultaneously will provide unprecedented amounts of data to fuel Big Data Astronomy in the coming decade."

The Subaru Telescope's new instrument

The Subaru Telescope is an 8.2-meter optical-infrared telescope located at the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii, operated by Japan's NAO.

The telescope will use spectroscopy instruments to break the light from stars into its component colors, yielding important information about the chemical composition of those stars. As the NAO explains, "studying the strengths of the different colors in the rainbow from an object can tell astronomers various details about the object such as its motion, temperature, and chemical composition."

The NAO just revealed its PFS (Prime Focus Spectrograph) instrument, which, according to the institution, breaks visible "light rainbows" or light dispersion, into two components: the red and the blue side. The organization says scientists will be able to combine this data with that of a third infrared light detector. All of this will allow scientists to glean a whole lot of information from what may otherwise seem like a simple observation.

"Together with a widefield camera (HSC: Hyper Suprime-Cam)," the NAO statement reads, "PFS will help launch the Subaru Telescope 2.0 project which will reveal the nature of dark matter and dark energy, structure formation in the Universe, and the physical processes of galaxy formation and evolution."

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What is spectroscopy?

Spectroscopy is essentially the study of the absorption and emission of light by matter. Astronomical spectroscopy sees scientists split light (or electromagnetic radiation) into a spectrum in much the same way a prism splits light into a rainbow of colors.

As the NAO explains, "a spectrograph breaks the light from an object into its component colors, in other words it creates a precise rainbow." This allows researchers to ascertain a great deal of information about the origin of light they are investigating, including their chemical composition, temperature, density, mass, distance and luminosity.

Japan's Subaru Telescope will train 2,400 eyes on the sky to analyze "cosmic rainbows"
An illustration of the Star-Spectroscope of the Lick Observatory in 1898.

In simpler terms, spectroscopy is the analysis of colors of light after it has been observed via a telescope and split into its constituent colors.

Sir Isaac Newton is widely credited as the first to have applied spectroscopy to astronomical observations back in the early 1700s, allowing the scientific community to gain a whole new perspective on the cosmos and forever changing the field of astronomy.

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