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A new telescope has opened its eye to the heavens: the Discovery Channel Telescope - yes, that Discovery Channel - that's part of the venerable Lowell Observatory. Sitting on a mountain top in Arizona, over the weekend the 4.3 meter telescope saw what astronomers call "first light": the first time it sees actual photons from the sky. Its first target: the lovely galaxy M 109:
[Click to galactinate, and also see pictures of the Whirlpool and Sombrero galaxies.]
M 109 is a barred spiral galaxy about 85 or so million light years away in the direction of Ursa Major, and is part of a loose group containing about 50 other galaxies both big and small. It's the brightest in the group, and located on its far side from us.
The Discovery Channel Telescope is designed to see in optical light (the kind we see with our eyes) as well as near-infrared. I'm very glad to see it operational: as I've said here so many times, the more eyes we have on the sky, the better. The sky is wide and deep, and there's so much to see and learn. With this new addition to our fleet of scientific instruments peering into the Universe, our understand will only grow.
Image credit: Lowell Observatory/DCT. Tip o' the dew shield to astronomer Ian O'Neill for the news!