Supernova spectrograph sees first light

June 25, 2004
Berkeley, CA, June 25, 2004--The Nearby Supernova Factory, an international collaboration of astronomers and astrophysicists, has announced that SNIFS, the Supernova Integral Field Spectrograph, has achieved "first light" and is meeting its design goals.

Berkeley, CA, June 25, 2004--The Nearby Supernova Factory, an international collaboration of astronomers and astrophysicists, has announced that SNIFS, the Supernova Integral Field Spectrograph, achieved "first light" during the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 8, when the new instrument acquired its first astronomical target, a Type Ia supernova designated SN 2004ca. Type Ia supernovae are the kind used by astronomers to measure the expansion of the universe. Analysis of the initial data, plus a separate observation of the newly discovered supernova SN 2004cr on Sunday, June 20th, confirm that SNIFS -- while still in its commissioning phase -- is meeting its design goals as a remarkable new tool for observing supernovae.

SNIFS, which was recently mounted on the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter telescope atop Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii, is an innovative instrument designed to track down the idiosyncrasies and precise distances of Type Ia supernovae by simultaneously obtaining over 200 spectra of each target, its home galaxy, and the nearby night sky.

SNIFS is a crucial element in the international Nearby Supernova Factory (SNfactory), initiated at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The SNfactory's goal is to find and study over 300 nearby Type Ia supernovae in order to reduce uncertainties about these foremost astronomical "standard candles," whose measurement led to the discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is increasing.

"Better knowledge of these extraordinarily bright and remarkably uniform objects will make them even better tools for measuring the cosmos," says astronomer Greg Aldering of Berkeley Lab's Physics Division, who leads the SNfactory collaboration. "Type Ia supernovae are the key to understanding the mysterious dark energy that's causing the universe to expand ever faster."

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