PS1 researchers at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy will be focusing their attention on five major areas.
A group led by Robert Jedicke and Richard Wainscoat is searching for small bodies in the inner solar system. These include "killer asteroids" on a collision course with Earth. If these are found with sufficient lead time, we may be able to nudge them out of the way.
Another group led by Eugene Magnier is studying low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and young stellar objects in an attempt to learn how our solar system formed. Studies of young stars have illustrated the stages of star formation. By the 1990s, planets were discovered around other stars, proving that our own solar system was not an accident, but also showing that solar systems come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations. Also in the 1990s, the first "brown dwarfs" were discovered. Not quite heavy enough to be stars, but far heavier than even Jupiter, these objects help us to understand the formation of both stars and planets. This project aims to make large advances in our understanding of star and planet formation by finding and studying the faintest stars and brown dwarfs relatively near our Sun. It makes use of one of the most unique capabilities of the PS1 Survey: the ability to precisely measure the distance to stars as far away as 300 light-years (about 75 times as far as the nearest star) and to measure the motions of stars in that region of space. Such observations allow us to discover nearby stars that would otherwise be confused with the billions of stars in our Galaxy visible in the background.
John Tonry is the lead for the study of Explosive Transients and Variables. By scanning the heavens nightly and processing the data as quickly as it comes in, PS1 will discover hundreds of supernovae that can be used as “standard candles” for measuring distances in our galaxy and beyond. The wealth of supernovae will enable unprecedented statistical studies of our universe and the Big Bang.
The group studying High Redshift Quasars and Active Galactic Nuclei is led by Ken Chambers. At the limit of its vision, PS1 is expected to find the most distant quasars—black holes fueled in the earliest stages of galaxy formation—ever discovered.
Nick Kaiser is leading the study of Cosmological Lensing. When light from a more distant galaxy is bent by one closer to us, we can learn about the characteristics of dark matter, the unseen material (because it gives off no light) that is believed to be the majority of matter in the universe and dark energy, the little-understood force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.