Astronomers at the University of the Virgin Islands were granted access to two of the world’s largest telescopes in Chile and Hawaii by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Scientists, collaborators and students will now be better equipped to study gamma-ray bursts (GRB), explosive phenomena generated by exploding stars 30 to 100 times larger than our sun. These may be the first generation of stars ever to have formed in the universe, which makes their analysis critical to our deepening understanding of the formation of the universe.
“We are entering a great era in the history of UVI astronomy,” said Dr. Antonino Cucchiara, assistant professor of Physics in the College of Science and Mathematics. “Because our students will be able to participate in cutting-edge research that is a top priority of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the University of the Virgin Islands will take on a significant role within the worldwide spectrum of top astronomy research institutions.”
The Gemini Observatory consists of two eight meter telescopes that collectively provide access to the entire sky from strategic mountaintop locations, and are capable of providing nuanced information about astronomical events that is not visible through smaller telescopes. The UVI team was granted four hours of use on the southern Chilean telescope, and ranked in the top quartile for the Northern telescope in Hawaii. Meanwhile, a smaller but faster robotic telescope is coming online at the Etelman Observatory (the Virgin Islands Robotic Telescope, VIRT), which will be able to identify gamma-ray bursts (GRB’s) a few minutes after they have been discovered by satellites. With access to both technologies in different parts of the world, UVI researchers will be among the first to obtain and analyze GRB data as it becomes available.