Digital Sky mapping provides new data to astronomers

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by Marissa Shapiro , Vanderbilt University
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey fifth generation is collecting data about our universe for Vanderbilt University astronomers and other project members to use to explore the formation of distant galaxies and supermassive black holes, and to map the Milky Way.
The SDSS-V will make full use of existing satellites, including NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission, to lead to new discoveries. Keivan Stassun, Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is co-investigator of NASA TESS, which enabled the discovery of a newly formed exoplanet in June 2020. That discovery boosted the potential for a joint effort with SDSS data.
“SDSS-V will magnify the exoplanet discoveries from TESS, both retrospectively and prospectively,” Stassun said. “Retrospectively in the sense that SDSS-V data will provide a rich characterization of the chemical makeup of the exoplanet systems that TESS has already discovered; prospectively in the sense that SDSS-V will provide the same rich characterization for millions of stars whose planets TESS has yet to find. Even more prospectively, the combination of SDSS-V and TESS data will enable us to confidently identify the most promising planets whose atmospheres we will study for habitability with the upcoming Twinkle mission.”
Set to launch in late 2023, Twinkle will deliver unprecedented satellite telescope data about the elemental composition of exoplanet atmospheres. Vanderbilt and The Ohio State University have become founding members of the mission.
The latest SDSS-V data will inform the research of Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Physics Jessie Runnoe, whose work primarily focuses on quasars—supermassive black holes that feed on disks of gas and dust in the centers of distant galaxies.
Quasars give off a tremendous amount of light energy, and Runnoe studies the environments that make them or cause them to change over time. The latest release from SDSS-V will enable her to digest huge quantities of data into new observations and conclusions. The new data will make it much easier to see how, when and why quasars are changing, Runnoe explains.
“Quasars are so far away that capturing an image makes it look like it’s a star,” Runnoe said. “The real action is looking at how the energy, or light, output of quasars appears when it’s spread out over different wavelengths. Having consistent data over time from SDSS-V will help us create a benchmark to understand how quasars really behave.”
In a release, program director at the Sloan Foundation Evan Michelson said, “SDSS-V will continue to transform astronomy by building on a 20-year legacy of path-breaking science, shedding light on the most fundamental questions about the origins and nature of the universe. It demonstrates all the hallmark characteristics that have made SDSS so successful in the past: open sharing of data, inclusion of diverse scientists, and collaboration across numerous institutions.” The release also highlights the leadership role of Vanderbilt Research Assistant Professor Jon Bird in the overall design and implementation of the SDSS-V mission.
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