After more than two years of work constructing a two-ton astronomical instrument known as APOGEE-South, University of Virginia astronomers traveled to Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory. There they installed the $6 million infrared spectrograph.


This device will allow astronomers to peer through dense cosmic dust scattered through the Milky Way and view stars at the farthest reaches of our home galaxy. 


The infrared-sensitive spectrograph, which operates at wavelengths longer than optical light, allows astronomers to examine the chemical composition and motions of hundreds of thousands of stars that otherwise – because of obscuring interstellar dust – would not be readily visible optically.


Using data from both devices, astronomers soon will achieve a much fuller view of the Galaxy, gaining new insights to how the Milky Way formed, how it is evolving, and by implication how other, similar galaxies formed. Used in conjunction with other telescopes and instruments worldwide, the APOGEE project also is helping astronomers identify potential planets in other solar systems.


APOGEE-South will operate well into the 2020s, gathering enough data to keep international astronomers busy for decades.

A truck with the payload of the APOGEE instrument works its way the mountain in the Atacama desert of Chile. The instrument inside the shipping container has traveled 8,000 miles by land and sea to get here from Charlottesville, Virginia. 

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A forklift with a strap pulls the instrument slowly toward the opening of the container where it will be able to be lifted more easily.

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Two team members watch as supplies are forked into the telescope. 

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Team members get right to work unloading the thousands of feet of delicate fiber optic cable. They use the driveway to unroll it and then feed it through the inner structure of the telescope. 

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As work commences a thunderstorm comes in from the Andes in the distance. 

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A team member numbers and checks fiber optic ends. These ends will plug into the telescope end. 

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Team members erect plastic sheeting to seal off the clean room where the instrument will live. This room must be completely clean once they open it as they don't want to get contaminants inside the instrument. 

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Two team members check data read outs from the end of the instrument that will plug into the wide field telescope.

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In the clean room two members of the team run pressure tests on the instrument as it is cooled down with liquid nitrogen.

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The base of the wide field telescope that will be used. This telescope built in the 1950's is seeing a new life with APOGEE. This program prefers a wider field of view that is more common with out of date telescopes. 

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Preparations are made to lift the lid of the instrument and inspect the inside.

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The instrument lid is hooked to a chain and lift. 

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Interior view of the Du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. 

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A team member keeps an eye on the thermal blanket to ensure it doesn't tear while lifting the lid of the instrument. 

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A team member and the observatory manager discuss a shipping delay that is causing the progress of the instrument to stall. 

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Fine adjustments are made on the instrument. 

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The clear night sky of the Milky Way over top of the Du Pont Telescope. This instrument will help observers better understand our galaxy and accurately map it for the first time. 

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The lid is lifted off the instrument.

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The Magellanic Cloud in the night sky above Las Campanas.

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Two team members hook up fiber optic cables to the instrument. 

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Using a flashlight on the telescope end, a team member is shining light on the end and these two team members are calling out which receptacle number the light appears in. Essentially mapping the fiber connections. 

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Team members talk with Dr. Steve Majewski who must leave the project early. Delays in shipping and customs forced him to miss completion. 

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A team member tightens an attachment on the instrument.

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A fox, one of the many forms of wildlife that surround the remote observatory. 

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The instrument in the clean room.

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