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NASA's New Horizon's Spacecraft Measures Brightness of the Universe

Apr 13, 2017 02:37 PM EDT

NASA's New Horizon's explored Pluto and is now on its way to another mysterious object located in the Kuiper Belt. The mission also gave scientists a new tool to measure the brightness of the galaxies in the universe.

It is based on a paper by researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology published in the journal Nature Communications. The study aims to measure visible light from other galaxies.

"Measurement of the Cosmic Optical Background using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on New Horizons" is a study lead author Michael Zemcov. Researchers made use of data collected by New Horizons using its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to measure visible lights from other galaxies.

Beyond Milky Way, there are lights shining called the cosmic optical background. There are many other galaxies out there and this tool will help scientists measure the brightness and understand each of them.

"Determining how much light comes from all the galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy has been a stubborn challenge in observational astrophysics," Michael Zemcov, assistant professor and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Visible light is important because it may be able to reveal the location of stars as well as provide a glimpse of the exotic processes that happen in other galaxies. One good example is the possibility of light produced after dark matter decays.

"This result shows some of the promises of doing astronomy from the outer solar system," Zemcov said. "What we're seeing is that the optical background is completely consistent with the light from galaxies and we don't see a need for a lot of extra brightness; whereas previous measurements from near the Earth need a lot of extra brightness. The study is proof that this kind of measurement is possible from the outer solar system, and that LORRI is capable of doing it."

Innovative spacecraft can help scientists observe visible light from other galaxies. And while doing its actual missions, spacecraft like New Horizons may also gather data specifically for analyzing the brightness of other galaxies.

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