Washington: Astronomers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) have released a new online public data set featuring 60,000 stars, which could us understand how our Milky Way Galaxy formed.
The highlight of "Data Release 10" is a new set of high-resolution stellar spectra -- measurements of the amount of light given off by a star at each wavelength -- using infrared light, invisible to human eyes but able to penetrate the veil of dust that obscures the center of the galaxy.
These new spectra are the first data released by the SDSS-III's Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), an effort to create a comprehensive census of our Milky Way Galaxy.
"This is the most comprehensive collection of infrared stellar spectra ever made," Steven Majewski of the University of Virginia, the lead scientist for the APOGEE project, said.
"These sixty thousand stars are selected from all the different parts of our galaxy, from the nearly-empty outskirts to the dust-enshrouded center. Our spectra are allowing us to peel back the curtain on the hidden Milky Way," he said.
"A star's spectrum is a powerful tool for learning about the star -- it tells us key details about the star's temperature and size, and what elements are in its atmosphere," Jon Holtzman of New Mexico State University, who led the effort to prepare the APOGEE data for Data Release 10, said.
"It's one of the best tools we have for learning about stars, like getting a photo of someone instead of just knowing their height and weight," he said.
The question of how our Milky Way Galaxy formed has been the subject of scientific speculation and debate for hundreds of years.
APOGEE's three-dimensional map will provide key information for resolving central questions about how our galaxy formed over the many billions of years of its history.