The Big Dipper is the most familiar star pattern in all the night sky. And astronomers with the HETDEX project are about to get a whole lot more familiar with this region of the cosmos, as they probe a million or more galaxies that lie far beyond the Big Dipper’s bright stars.
The region around the Big Dipper offers several key advantages for HETDEX:
“The region that we have chosen is around the Big Dipper. We will measure about one to two million galaxies in that area. And from that, we will construct a detailed map of the universe.”
Karl Gebhardt, HETDEX scientist
HETDEX will conduct about 140 nights of observations during its three-year run, all around the time of new Moon, when there is no moonlight to overpower the feeble glow of distant galaxies. Observing will take place from late winter into early summer, when the target region wheels high overhead during the night, putting it in a prime viewing location.
Each observation, which will last a few minutes, will cover a segment of sky that is a little smaller than the Moon. In all, HETDEX will survey an area that’s the equivalent of about 2,000 full Moons.