PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Jane PlattSeptember 18, 1997
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Exotic targets include quasars, black holes and brown dwarfs
TWIN TELESCOPES WITH NEAR-INFRARED "EYES" BEGIN ALL-SKY SURVEY
The first of a pair of new telescopes, funded primarily by
NASA, has begun an ambitious three-and-a-half year near-infrared
survey of the entire celestial sky, peering through the curtain
of interstellar dust in the Milky Way galaxy.
The Two-Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), based at the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, features two 1.3-meter
(51-inch) telescopes, one at a Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory site atop Mount Hopkins, near Tucson, AZ, and the
other at a National Optical Astronomy Observatories site in Cerro
"The sky survey catalogues produced 100 years ago are still
useful to astronomers," said 2MASS Project Manager Rae Stiening.
"We expect this new, greatly updated survey will be an invaluable
resource for the next 100 years."
"Preliminary observations by 2MASS are already suggesting
new infrared sources will be discovered," said Program Manager
Dr. Michael Klein at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
CA. "Some of these will be targets for detailed studies for
future space observatories, like the Advanced X-Ray Facility
(AXAF), the Space Infrared Telescope Facility and the Next
Generation Space Telescope."
The survey is designed to catalogue 300 million stars and
one million galaxies in the local universe, along with quasars,
which are strong, extremely bright radio sources, and galaxies
with black holes, the intriguing entities with gravity so
powerful not even light can escape.
2MASS will observe many known asteroids and possibly some
comets, and it is uniquely sensitive to exotic objects like brown
dwarfs, which lack the mass needed to ignite and become full-
The telescopes are equipped with near-infrared detector
arrays that will provide the most complete census to date of cool
stars in the Milky Way galaxy and provide new data for detailed
studies of the galactic structure. Near-infrared emission is at
wavelengths roughly two-to-four times longer than visible light
and permits astronomers to "see through" the obscuring effects of
interstellar dust in the Milky Way galaxy.
As Stiening explained, "Sunsets on Earth look reddish
because only red light makes it through the dust in our
atmosphere. Infrared observations enable us to penetrate the
dust in our galaxy and other galaxies and, therefore, they
provide a much clearer view of interior regions."
The 2MASS survey will measure accurately the positions and
infrared brightness of stars and galaxies. Combined with
complementary ground-based redshift surveys, the 2MASS extra-
galactic data will provide a three-dimensional view of large-
scale structures in the local universe. The enabling technology
for this survey is the breakthrough in large-format infrared
detector arrays. These technologies, funded through the U.S.
Department of Defense and NASA, are being adapted for
astronomical purposes to increase sensitivity dramatically. It's
expected the new survey will be some 25,000 times more sensitive
than a precursor survey at the California Institute of
Technology, Pasadena, CA, nearly 30 years ago. 2MASS uses the
type of detectors developed for the Near Infrared Camera and
Multi Object Spectrometer on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
"Observing time at most telescopes is divided amongst a
variety of scientific programs using a suite of different
instruments. 2MASS telescopes will be completely dedicated to
mapping the sky using one instrument, a three-color infrared
camera," said Principal Investigator Dr. Michael Skrutskie, a
University of Massachusetts physics and astronomy professor, who
leads the science working group that will evaluate the data
products. He also managed the design and fabrication effort for
the infrared cameras, which are attached to an identical pair of
Data will be processed at JPL's Infrared Processing and
Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech, with a team led by Dr. Roc
Cutri, Dr. Charles Beichman and Dr. Thomas Chester. Every two
nights, the center will process 60 gigabytes of data, which is
more data than processed during the entire Infrared Astronomy
Satellite (IRAS) mission of 1983.
The 2MASS survey is funded by NASA's Office of Space
Science, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Naval
Observatory and the University of Massachusetts. JPL is managing
the program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.
Additional information and images are available at the 2MASS
website at the following URL's:
EDITOR'S NOTE: Images to accompany this release are available to
news media representatives by calling the JPL Public Information