Discovery Channel Telescope » DCT Science » Tiny Galaxies

 DCT Status, April 22, 2013

First Light

We obtained first light images with Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope in mid-2012, in time for unveiling at our First Light Gala on July 21, 2012. Over 700 people attended the celebration, which featured a keynote address by Neil Armstrong, making what would be his last public appearance. We were honored by his presence at this turning point in Lowell's history. See our First Light Gala page for photographs and desktop versions of the first light images.

Commissioning Images

The Large Monolithic Imager (LMI), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is the DCT's workhorse instrument, featuring a 36 megapixel CCD with a field of view of nearly 13 arc minutes. It is mounted on the back of the instrument cube, at the straight-through position, with other instruments soon to be arrayed around the side ports. Lowell astronomer and instrument Principal Investigator Philip Massey has assembled gallery of commissioning images for you to enjoy and download. These demonstrate the outstanding optical quality of the telescope and apart from the color-compositing, they are completely unretouched.

Early science

With the commissioning phase of the DCT project now proceeding rapidly, we have begun to offer the first science observing nights to Lowell staff and to astronomers from our partner institutions (Boston University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo). Although most nights are still dedicated to commissioning and engineering, we used the DCT on about 10 nights in Q1 2013 and are on track for aboout 15 nights in Q2 and 20 in Q3 for science observing. It is exciting to see our newest eye on the heavens doing so well what it was built to do, and we have obtained image quality as good as 0.6 seconds of arc. Stay tuned as the exciting results begin to accumulate!

Dwarf galaxy N2366

Dwarf galaxy N2366

The DCT will answer some key questions about dwarf galaxies.

Little galaxies pose big questions. Lowell astronomer Deidre Hunter and her colleagues have made observations that conflict with prevailing theories. These theories suggest that no stars should form when the gas from the parent galaxy — the gas that provides the building blocks for star formation — is too tenuous. Yet, Deidre has found evidence of star-forming regions in these small galaxies despite observations of insubstantial gas.

The DCT will address these questions. What’s wrong with the models?  Is something helping to catalyze star formation on the outer edge of galaxies unexpectedly? Where do galaxies “end” and how do stars form at galactic edges? The DCT’s wide-field, ultra-deep imaging will allow us to closely inspect the distribution of stars and gas in the sparse regions of dwarf galaxies. Combined with spectroscopic observations to reveal the motions of the same stars and gas, we can better understand the structure and evolution of tiny galaxies. The implications of these observations go beyond just small galaxies; they also examine how more massive galaxies originated.