TEL4 Wisconsin Hydrogen Alpha Mapping telescope WHAM

The Wisconsin Hydrogen-Alpha Mapping (WHAM) telescope is a 0.6-meter robotic instrument that is being used for mapping faint emissions from hot gas in our Galaxy. It was installed at Kitt Peak in November 1996, but all observations are controlled from an office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is serviced by employees of the National Solar Observatory, even though it is a night-time telescope. Servicing includes checking that the CCD

camera is functioning properly, and removing snow from the building and rails on which the building slides.

Its first project was to make a complete map of the sky using emissions from hot hydrogen gas, using a particular spectral line known to astronomers as "hydrogen alpha" or Ha. The data from this survey will be compared to maps of cold hydrogen and other tracers.

Hydrogen is heated in several ways: by hot young stars, by supernovae and by young white dwarf stars. When observations of atomic hydrogen - using the 21 cm line observed by radio telescopes - were the only way of finding gas, it seemed that there were many holes in its distribution. As astronomers discovered tracers of different kinds of gas, they started filling in the holes, as part of a process of understanding the entire lifecycle of stars and how those lifecycles affect the overall appearance of an entire galaxy.

Once the Ha survey was completed in 1998, follow-up observations of specific regions of the sky began, using different spectral lines. Each line is a tracer of different conditions in space, so after the surveys are complete astronomers will be able to build up a three-dimensional map of the physical conditions in our Galaxy.

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