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UCLA's Telescope 'Time Machine' Peers into Galaxy's Past

The telescope is installed on Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.

A new telescope instrument built by UCLA scientists is being called a "time machine" for its ability to peer through interstellar dust to the beginnings of our universe, the school reported Saturday.

The instrument has been attached to a telescope on the world's highest volcano, and is able to allow scientists to see the earliest galaxies in the universe. The five-ton piece of optics and electronics is called the Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration, or MOSFIRE. It was recently installed at the Keck I telescope on Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii.

"The instrument was designed to study the most distant, faintest galaxies," said Ian S. McLean, the director of UCLA's Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics. The device allows scientists to see light from the birth of galaxies as the rays were transmitted towards Earth some 10 billion years ago -- just a few billion years after the Big Bang.

"We are looking back in time to the era of the formation if some of the very first galaxies," McLean said. "This is an era that we need to study if we are going to understand the large-scale structure of the universe."

UCLA scientists joined colleagues at Caltech and UC Santa Cruz to design the delicate instrument, which includes a "slit unit" with 46 delicate mechanical objects that was built in Switzerland. The computer that controls it was programmed by UCLA scientists, and the entire device was recently installed in Hawaii. It cost $14 million, and UCLA estimates that building it in-house saved half of the cost, which was underwritten by the federal government and by Gordon and Betty Moore. He founded the Intel Corp.

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