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       Six teams of scientists have been selected to participate in the first new mission of NASA's Origins Program, a project that will seek to answer the questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone?

       Researchers will make their observations with the new Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), now set for launch in July 2002. The teams will study the formation of galaxies, stars and planet-forming dust disks with the space-based telescope.

       The teams were chosen from 28 proposals submitted by astronomers worldwide. They make up the SIRTF Legacy Science Program, which will involve American-led teams of scientists from around the world. The six projects comprise more than 3,000 hours of observations, or about half of SIRTF's first year of operation.

       -- Galaxy Birth and Evolution
       This project will probe the farthest reaches of the
       universe to image the most distant objects that can be
       seen by SIRTF and to help answer questions about the
       birth and evolution of galaxies to a distance of 12
       billion light-years. The project will photograph 0.08
       square degrees, or about 1/500,000th of the entire sky.
       This area is equivalent to the size of an American
       quarter held at a distance of about 1.2 meters (four
       feet). Led by Dr. Mark Dickinson of the Space Telescope
       Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., this project uses
       647 hours of observing time.

       -- Black Holes and Galaxies
       A companion survey will use both SIRTF infrared cameras
       to cover an area of the sky equivalent to about 500 full
       Moons, or 100 square degrees of sky. Images produced will
       help astronomers study the evolution of dusty galaxies up
       to 10 billion light-years from Earth. The survey will
       determine whether black holes are the primary energy
       source in bright distant galaxies, or whether massive
       bursts of star formation can provide the necessary light.
       Led by Dr. Carol Lonsdale of the Infrared Processing and
       Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology
       in Pasadena, this project uses 851 hours of SIRTF
       observing time.

       -- Unveiling Hidden Stars
       This investigation will study 75 nearby galaxies,
       conducting comprehensive imaging to pierce the dust that
       hides star formation. This research will yield new
       insights into the physical processes connecting star
       formation to the interstellar medium of dust and gas that
       permeates galaxies. Led by Dr. Robert Kennicutt of the
       University of Arizona in Tucson, the project uses 512
       hours of SIRTF time.

       -- Inside the Milky Way
       This large-area survey of the inner portion of our Milky
       Way galaxy will produce an invaluable database for the
       larger astronomical community. Because the central
       regions of our galaxy are heavily obscured by dust, they
       remain hidden from optical telescopes. By using SIRTF's
       shorter-wavelength infrared camera, this study will lift
       the opaque, dusty veil to uncover newly formed stars.
       Observations will yield information about the large-scale
       structure of the inner Milky Way and uncover details of
       the star formation process by observing heavily obscured
       clusters of newborn stars. Led by Dr. Ed Churchwell of
       the University of Wisconsin at Madison, this
       investigation uses 400 hours of observing time.

       -- From Gas to Stars
       This project will study the process by which stars form
       out of giant molecular clouds of gas within our galaxy.
       It will concentrate on observing dense and embedded cores
       inside molecular clouds located within 100 light-years of
       Earth. Its goal will be to follow the history of these
       clumps of dust and gas as they contract due to gravity
       and evolve into stars. Scientists expect that some of
       these newborn stars will have dust disks around them that
       will ultimately form planetary systems, like our solar
       system. Led by Dr. Neal Evans II of the University of
       Texas in Austin, this project uses 400 hours and all
       three SIRTF instruments.

       -- Planet Formation: When the Dust Settles
       A related Legacy Science project will study evolution of
       planetary systems from a sample of hundreds of stars up
       to 100 million years old. It will study time scales
       involved in the planet-building process. While SIRTF
       lacks the visual acuity to take pictures of planets
       around nearby stars, it will easily detect and
       characterize the dusty disks from which planetary bodies
       form. This project will yield invaluable information that
       could help astronomers understand the formation of our
       own solar system. Led by Dr. Michael Meyer of the
       University of Arizona in Tucson, the study uses 350 hours
       of observing time.

       Detailed observational planning for these projects will be conducted throughout 2001, and the actual observations will begin a few months after SIRTF is launched.

       The SIRTF mission is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. Additional information about SIRTF and the Legacy Science program is available at .

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11/21/00 JP