This amazing image shows a star that you have never seen before

This amazing image shows a star that you have never seen before

It looks a bit like neon artwork from the 80’s. But what the picture above really shows is much, much cooler.

It is a star, and the first slide taken by the latest instrument on the Gemini South telescope, the Gemini High-Resolution Optical SpecTrograph, or GHOST. What it shows is the entire optical spectrum of light emitted by a star named HD 222925, in fantastic resolution.

“This is an exciting milestone for astronomers around the world who depend on Gemini South to study the universe from this exceptional vantage point in Chile,” said Jennifer Lotz, director of the Gemini Observatory.

“Once this next-generation instrument is deployed, GHOST will be an important component of the astronomer’s toolbox.”

The light we can actually see emitted by stars is crammed with hidden details that describe the features of the sun in the distance. It can show us whether a star is moving by how light shifts from one end of the spectrum to the other, while variations in brightness can reveal internal oscillations, which can be analyzed by asteroseismologists.

The whole spectrum of the star also reveals what it is made of, which in turn can be used to learn everything about it, such as how old the star is and where it came from.

This is because different elements absorb and re-emit light differently. When astronomers look at a star’s spectrum, they can look for brighter and weaker wavelengths, and use that information to determine which elements are present in the star’s atmosphere.

You can see what the dimmer functions, known as absorption lines, look like in the image below.

hd 222925 spectrum markedThe marked spectrum of HD 222925. (International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / GHOST Consortium)

This technique was recently used on Hubble Observations HD 222925, a truly strange star about 1460 light-years away. Spectral analysis revealed most of the elements ever seen in a star’s atmosphere, as many as 65 – most of them were heavy elements that can only be formed in extremely energetic events, such as a collision with neutron stars or a supernova.

This means that HD 222925, which is at a very late stage at the end of its life, probably formed from a cloud that was rich in these elements in the first place, the seed of death for stars that had come before it.

The new pictures from GHOST have not revealed anything new about the star – yet. The star was the target of the instrument’s “first light”, the first image taken by a new telescope to check that the telescope is working and how good it is. This allows researchers to make necessary initial adjustments to the instrument.

The commissioning phase comes next, where researchers and technicians will put GHOST through the steps to ensure that the instrument works properly.

Once that stage is completed and any further adjustments have been made, GHOST will be ready for scientific observation, probably around the first half of next year.

It will be something to look forward to. GHOST, which took 10 years to construct, is 10 times more powerful than Gemini’s other large optical spectrograph, GMOS. It is, say researchers, the most powerful and sensitive spectrograph of its kind that is currently in operation on comparable telescopes.

It is expected that GHOST will be able to provide fascinating insights about stars identified as interesting targets by other telescopes and surveys, and deliver us many more stars, divided into their constituent wavelengths – beautiful “star arcs” that will hopefully unlock many hidden secrets of the Milky Way.

The photos were published by NOIRLabs International Gemini Observatory here.

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