A unique high-tech instrument with 24 robotic, cryogenic arms has been built by a British team to peer back into the origins of the universe.

The KMOS (K-Band Multi Object Spectrometer) has 24 arms each with a gold-plated mirror on its tip,. The arms can be operated independently to pinpoint light from distant galaxies.

It is unique because it can image several galaxies at once, both in a cluster and in isolation. This means it can see the same amount of detail as normal telescopes in a fraction of the time - taking a process usually measured in years down to just a few months.

is an incredibly complex piece of kit, which is now on its way to a mountain top in South America to form part of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

The instrument will be fitted to one of the four telescopes that make up the Very Large Telescope at Paranal in Chile.

Dr Michele Cirasuolo, lead instrument scientist for KMOS, said: “KMOS represents a pivotal step in our quest to scrutinise the distant Universe. The ability to observe in the near-infrared 24 galaxies simultaneously is an enormous leap forward compared to any other current instrument."

It will be used to study star formation, and to understand how they acquire mass.

"It’s not just a picture of a galaxy," Cirasuolo said. "But 3D spectroscopy providing the spatially resolved physics and the chemistry and the dynamics. This is crucial to understand how galaxies assemble their mass and shape their structure as a function of cosmic time."

The instrument is a collaboration of six institutions in Germany and the UK, including STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), Durham University, Oxford University and RAL Space at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

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  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

  • KMOS Spectrograph

    A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.