When people think of space telescopes, the ones that generally come to mind are the big, expensive missions such as Hubble and Chandra. But since 2003, a very small telescope — one that could easily fit in the back of a pickup truck — has been surveying the sky at ultraviolet wavelengths. Costing a bargain-basement $100 million, NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer, or GALEX for short, has given astronomers new insights into galaxy evolution. And in its “spare time,” it has discovered a giant tail extending from the star Mira and caught the death scream of a star as it was tidally shredded and then ingested by a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy.
In the April 2012 issue of Sky & Telescope, UCLA astronomer Michael Rich describes some of GALEX’s most important contributions to astronomy. To follow up this article, Dr. Rich took time out of his schedule to talk to S&T editor in chief Robert Naeye. In this interview, Dr. Rich discusses how GALEX has given astronomers new insights into how galaxies change from one type to another. He also explains GALEX’s contributions in other areas of research, and what the future holds for the field of ultraviolet astronomy.
We only had room in the article to publish a tiny portion of the many beautiful images that GALEX has beamed back to Earth. To see more beautiful GALEX images, check out our GALEX image gallery.