Cosmic Mining

An exciting opportunity for students to take part in cutting-edge astronomical research.

The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) is partnering with astronomers from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC) with the aim of identifying potential targets for the James Webb Space Telescope. Students will contribute to studies which aim to identify how various materials were created over the history of the Universe.

Students will be analysing spectral data from a previous mission – the Spitzer Space Telescope – which has observed over thirteen thousand point sources. Astronomers and education staff from the UKATC have worked with IRIS to develop a classroom activity in which students examine and classify this rich collection of existing data. The ultimate goal is for students to collaborate with astronomers on the selection of potential targets for Webb and the development of an observing proposal which makes the scientific case for pointing the huge space observatory at these objects.

Most of the chemical elements within and around us were formed by stars living, dying and colliding with each other. However, there are still many questions as to how these elements are made and distributed throughout galaxies like our own Milky Way. By looking at a plot of how much light a star gives off at different wavelengths and looking for tell-tale features researchers can determine the amount and different type of elements in cosmic dust to help us identify how the materials were created and distributed over the history of the Universe.

Like many of the IRIS collaborations, this project will help professional researchers to go through vast amounts of information that would otherwise take years. The resulting work will be used to not only identify potential targets for Webb, but will also produce the first fully classified catalogue of these sources, which is expected to be of scientific value in its own right.

The project officially launched on the 19th September 2018. Schools that are interested are encouraged to contact IRIS at info@researchinschools.org.

Watch our video to find out more.