Independent News For The Australian Public Service
Edition Number 406. Updated Tuesday, 22 April 2014

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GALAH gazes at Milky Way

A $13 million instrument at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) at Coonabarabran will enable astronomers to explore the origins of the Milky Way.

The instrument, known as HERMES (the High Efficiency and Resolution Multi-Element Spectrograph), can capture and analyse light from up to 400 stars or galaxies at the same time.

Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane said astronomers would be able to analyse light from more than a million stars in the galaxy, helping to map the age and movements of the stars and unravel how the Milky Way formed.

"HERMES has been developed over five years by scientists and engineers at the AAO, and will be used by scientists from all over the world," Mr Macfarlane said.

$13m instrument for new project

HERMES is part of a new project known as the "Galactic Archaeology with HERMES", or GALAH, survey involving 70 astronomers from 17 institutions in eight countries, led by Professor Ken Freeman from the Australian National University, Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from the University of Sydney and Dr Gayandhi De Silva from the AAO.

"Our participation in world-class research like this, and the international collaboration on the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, has enormous potential to build skills across many fields of technology that will create opportunities for Australian industry, including in the emerging areas of big data and high-performance computing," Mr Macfarlane said.

The Australian Government contributed almost $8 million from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Education Investment Fund to the development of HERMES.

The project has been funded through Astronomy Australia Ltd, which coordinates national research infrastructure investments for the astronomy community.

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