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University of Hawai‘i Astronomers to Construct 3D Map of Milky Way Galaxy

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A new project, led by a University of Hawaiʻi astronomer seeks to create the largest 3D map ever constructed of stars in the outer regions of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The team led by UH astronomer, Dan Huber, will use data from ground-based survey telescopes—including the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) at Haleakalā on Maui.

Astronomers will measure brightness variations over time for hundreds of thousands of distant stars in the Milky Way. They will then apply a novel technique to precisely measure the stars’ distances, placing them in their correct 3D location.


Researchers say the results will help place the Milky Way in the context of other galaxies, leading to a more complete understanding of the origin of our universe.

The project is made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF grant will also fund a summer research program for Native Hawaiian college students in an effort to increase their representation in STEM at the graduate level. Every summer, five undergraduates will spend 10 weeks in residence at UH Mānoa, working on projects that will result in peer-reviewed scientific papers. Students will also be funded to share their research at national conferences, and participate in professional development through the UH Institute for Astronomy’s NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.


Team members Professor Sukanya Chakrabarti (Rochester Institute of Technology) and Professor Robyn Sanderson (University of Pennsylvania) are world-leading experts in galaxy formation and evolution. They will use the 3D map constructed by Huber and his team to refine models of the galaxy and participate in the undergraduate research program.

Milky Way galaxy as seen from the Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakalā. PC: University of Hawaiʻi.

Huber’s team will determine positions in the Milky Way by measuring frequencies of waves. PC: Pieter Degroote K.U. Leuven, Belgium. University of Hawaiʻi.

ATLAS telescope unit on Haleakalā, Maui. Photo credit: Henry Weiland via University of Hawaiʻi.


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