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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

UF scientists develop camera to study black holes

Black holes can't be seen with the human eye, but the UF Department of Astronomy is looking anyway.

After seven years of construction, UF has designed the Flamingos-2 camera and spectrometer. The device produced its first images of space at the Gemini South telescope, located on Chile's 9,000-foot-tall Cerro Pachon mountain.

Last Thursday and Friday, Flamingos-2, which stands for Florida Multi-object Infrared Grism Observing Spectrograph, captured images of the Milky Way galaxy, team leader and UF astronomy professor Stephen Eikenberry said.

Once it is sufficiently tested, Flamingos-2 will operate in near-infrared light just beyond the human-eye range to study black holes, Eikenberry said.

"In the center of the Milky Way, there is a super massive black hole that is 5 million times the mass of the sun," he said. "There are hundreds of smaller black holes, too."

Eikenberry said the Flamingos-2 will also collect images of older, smaller galaxies that formed in the early stages of the universe to get a better understanding of the formation of larger galaxies, such as the Milky Way.

"If you look far away in the universe, you are also looking far back in time," he said.

Design and construction of Flamingos-2 cost $5 million, most of which was provided by funds from the federal government, Eikenberry said.

The project involved more than 30 UF scientists, engineers, students and staff.

Because Gemini South is one of the world's largest and most sought after telescopes, observatory time is difficult to secure, Eikenberry said. But the instrument's presence in Chile will ensure UF at least 30 nights of observation per year.

Eikenberry added that Flamingos-2 joins another UF instrument at Gemini South: the T-RECS mid-infrared camera.

The T-RECS camera is used to view cooler objects like young forming stars and planets.

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