Saint Mary’s astronomer part of Canadian collaboration exploring how galaxies form and evolve

Canadian astronomers will soon build the Gemini InfraRed Multi-Object Spectrograph (GIRMOS), a sensitive infrared spectrograph capable of producing images of the sky in unprecedented detail, thanks to a $13 million Canada Foundation for Innovation grant announced today, Oct. 12.

GIRMOS will help shed light on how galaxies form and evolve over cosmic time and is designed for use on the 8-metre telescopes of the Gemini Observatory, which are among the largest telescopes currently in existence. With it, researchers will be able to study some of the faintest, oldest, and most distant objects in the universe; probe the formation of stellar and planetary systems; and investigate galaxies in the early universe.

Dr. Marcin Sawicki

Dr. Marcin Sawicki

Saint Mary’s University’s contribution to the GIRMOS project is to develop the data-processing pipeline and instrument simulator. The instrument simulator will allow astronomers to plan their observations, while the pipeline is essential for taking the raw observations from the instrument and turning them into data suitable for scientific analysis.

“Developing these elements of GIRMOS taps directly into the expertise in observational astronomy and computational astrophysics that are research strengths at Saint Mary’s,” said Dr. Marcin Sawicki, Canada Research Chair in Astronomy at Saint Mary’s. “Our researchers and students will get a chance to participate in the construction of GIRMOS and then use it to study distant galaxies.”

Dr. Sawicki and researchers from other Canadian institutions are developing the ground-breaking technology under the direction of project lead Dr. Suresh Sivanadam from the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Physics. GIRMOS will also serve as a precursor to a spectrograph for the $1.5 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, which is now under construction in Hawaii.

Other GIRMOS partners include the National Research Council, University of British Columbia, University of Victoria, Laval University, Dalhousie University, York University, and the University of Manitoba.