NASA is pooling the power of three major space telescopes to unravel some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
The space agency announced Thursday that its Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra telescopes are teaming up to look deeper into the universe than ever before. Together the telescopes should be able to find and study galaxies that are as much as 100 times fainter than what any of the telescopes can see on their own.
Scientists are hopeful that the project will enable them to find galaxies that existed when the universe was only a few hundred million years old. That would be a young age for the universe, which is considered to be about 13.8 billion years old.
Under the collaborative effort dubbed The Frontier Fields, astronomers will study six massive galaxy clusters over the course of the next three years. The astronomers will focus not only on what is inside the clusters but also what is beyond them.
Using what's known as gravitational lensing, scientists will use the gravitational fields around these massive star groupings to brighten and magnify even more distant galaxies so they can be studied for the first time.
"We want to understand when and how the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe, and each great observatory gives us a different piece of the puzzle," said Peter Capak, the Spitzer principal investigator for the Frontier Fields program. "Hubble tells you which galaxies to look at and how many stars are being born in those systems. Spitzer tells you how old the galaxy is and how many stars have formed."
The Chandra X-ray Observatory will image the clusters as X-ray wavelengths to help calculate their mass, measure their gravitational lensing power, and identify background galaxies that have supermassive black holes, according to the space agency.
"The Frontier Fields program is exactly what NASA's great observatories were designed to do; working together to unravel the mysteries of the universe" said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Each observatory collects images using different wavelengths of light with the result that we get a much deeper understanding of the underlying physics of these celestial objects."
The first galaxy cluster to be studied is known as Abell 2744 or Pandora's Cluster.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.