SDSS-V makes its first observations

November 02, 2020

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation collected its very first observations of the cosmos at 1:47 a.m. on October 24, 2020. As the world's first all-sky time-domain spectroscopic survey, SDSS-V will provide insight into the formation and evolution of galaxies—like like our own Milky Way—and of the supermassive black holes that lurk at their centers. The data provided by SDSS-V will be an important complement to the X-ray all-sky data from eROSITA.

The start of the SDSS-V programme is an important milestone for the eROSITA team at MPE. SDSS-V will be the first world-class facility to embark in a systematic, large-scale follow-up campaign of the eROSITA X-ray survey. In a few years, MPE scientists and members of the eROSITA consortium will be able to accurately measure redshift (and thus distance) for hundreds of thousands X-ray sources (mainly growing supermassive black holes and clusters of galaxies), and characterize the physical properties of tens of thousands X-ray luminous stars.

“The SDSS, with its capability of taking large number of spectra over very wide areas of the sky in a short time is the perfect complement of eROSITA,” says Andrea Merloni, eROSITA’s Principal Investigator and a longtime member of the SDSS collaboration. “The two teams have partnered to explore the science reward of such X-ray/optical synergies for many years now,” he adds. “The SDSS is a unique example of world-wide astronomical collaboration based on scientific excellence, openness and inclusivity, and the fifth generation of its science program is no exception to this tradition. With the eROSITA survey progressing in its exploration of the X-ray sky, we now eagerly await the first results of our joint efforts.”

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s fifth generation made its first observations earlier this month. This image shows a sampling from those first SDSS-V data. The central sky image is a single field of SDSS-V observations. The purple circle indicates the telescope’s field-of-view on the sky, with the full Moon shown as a size comparison. SDSS-V simultaneously observes 500 targets at a time within a circle of this size. The left panel shows the optical-light spectrum of a quasar--a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy, which is surrounded by a disk of hot, glowing gas. The right panel shows the image and spectrum of a white dwarf --the left-behind core of a low-mass star (like the Sun) after the end of its life.

SDSS-V will operate out of both Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, home of the survey’s original 2.5-meter telescope, and Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where it uses the 2.5-meter du Pont telescope. SDSS-V's first observations were taken in New Mexico with existing SDSS instruments, in a necessary change of plans due to the pandemic. As laboratories and workshops around the world navigate safe reopening, SDSS-V's own suite of new innovative hardware is on the horizon---in particular, systems of automated robots to aim the fiber optic cables used to collect the light from the night sky.

Funded primarily by member institutions, along with grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, SDSS-V will focus on three primary areas of investigation, each exploring different aspects of the cosmos using different spectroscopic tools. Together these three project pillars—called “Mappers”—will observe more than six million objects in the sky, and monitor changes in more than a million of those objects over time.

The survey’s Local Volume Mapper will enhance our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution by probing the interactions between the stars that make up galaxies and the interstellar gas and dust that is dispersed between them. The Milky Way Mapper will reveal the physics of stars in our Milky Way, the diverse architectures of its star and planetary systems, and the chemical enrichment of our galaxy since the early universe. The Black Hole Mapper will measure masses and growth over cosmic time of the supermassive black holes that reside in the hearts of galaxies, and of the smaller black holes left behind when stars die.

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