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Drive-By Galactic Imagery Made Possible by Fiber Bundles

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An innovative use of existing tech has made it possible for an Australian observatory to massively increase the amount of data it can get in a night.

"Before, we could study one galaxy at a time in detail, or lots of galaxies at once but in much less detail," said James Allen of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics. "Now we have both the numbers and the detail."

The secret is a way to make scores of spectrographic measurements simultaneously using optical fibers. Single fibers are already widely used to isolate and measure the light coming from single galaxies, providing data about its motion and makeup. But a new "hexabundle" developed by the University of Sydney's astrophotonics lab packs 61 fibers into one, resulting in a detailed picture being taken in just one pass.

These images (a sample of which are shown above) may not have the majesty of visible-light photos from the likes of the Hubble, but they provide a wealth of scientific data — the red and blue indicate a Doppler shift, for example which describes motion. For more information about the system and the observatory's plans, check out the University of Sydney's news release.

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