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Universe twice as bright as it appears

Posted on Sunday, May 25 2008 @ 17:00:17 CEST by

Astronomers suggest the universe is twice as bright as it appears, because half the light emitted from stars and galaxies is blocked by dust:
Astronomers have known about interstellar dust for a while, but they haven't been able to quantify just how much light it blocks. Now a team of researchers has studied a catalogue of galaxies and found that dust shields roughly 50 percent of their light.

"I was shocked by the sheer scale of the effect," said Simon Driver, an astronomer from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who led the study. "Most people just kind of said, 'We suspect dust is a minor problem.' I spent much of my career working on deep images from Hubble and I've always ignored dust almost entirely."

The result will likely cause many astronomers to revise their calculations of the intrinsic brightness of many celestial objects, Driver said. Until now, many astronomers thought stars and galaxies were really about 10 percent brighter in optical light than they appeared because of dust. If the new findings are true, it turns out that objects in the sky are about twice as bright than they appear.

"This is a strong, clear-cut result," Driver told SPACE.com. "We've really got to take dust seriously and we've got to make large adjustments to our magnitude calculations." (A magnitude scale is used to define brightness of celestial objects.)



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