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Both terrestrial telescopes and their orbital counterparts have some pretty significant limitations — ground based observatories must deal with the obscuring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere and space telescopes are incredibly expensive to launch. But NASA’s newest telescope will deliver space-quality observations at a Earth-bound ‘scope price.
About once a century on any given square kilometre of Earth, a cosmic ray hits with mind-boggling intensity. The teeny tiny subatomic particle from space comes careening in with more than 10 million times the energy of particles shot out by the Large Hadron Collider. Where do these ultrahigh energy cosmic rays come from? Astronomers have a plan to find out, using the moon and a massive new radio telescope array.
Astronomy has come a long way in the 405 years since Galileo’s historic first survey of the night sky over Florence in 1609. The next generation of terrestrial telescopes are set to peer deeper into the cosmos and further back in time than ever before. We sat down with Dr Patrick McCarthy, Director of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organisation, to find out just how far the field has advanced and where it might be headed.
Tracking down Earth-like exoplanets with a terrestrial telescope is no easy feat because our planet’s atmosphere makes distant solar systems even harder to see. Adaptive optic technology can help make things go a little faster, but it does so at a snail’s pace — requiring up to 10 minutes per target. The fully autonomous Robo-AO system, however, lets any telescope lock on to targets in just 60 seconds. Let the hunt for Earth 2.0 begin!
NASA has finished and stacked the Sunshield for the Webb Space Telescope and it’s now getting ready to test it. Look at this huge thing. That’s enough tinfoil to cover a roasted chicken — if the chicken was the size of Tyrannosaurus Rex. According to NASA, it provides the equivalent of a 1,000,000 Sun Protection Factor.
The biggest building boom in the history of astronomy is upon us. In Chile and Hawaii and in space, astronomers are getting powerful telescopes that dwarf the current state-of-the-art instruments. When the mountain blasting and the mirror polishing are all done, we will have the clearest and most detailed views of outer space ever.
Radio telescopes, which you may remember Jodie Foster intently listening to for signs of alien life in Contact, pluck out radio waves from far away space. Ordinary communications satellite dishes also pick up radio waves, but of manmade origin. So hmm, how easily can you convert one into another? It’s totally possible, according to New Zealand astronomers who detail how they turned an obsolete satellite dish into a radio telescope for astronomy.
A team of Yale astronomers got a little crafty recently. In an attempt to see parts of space that their big fancy telescopes weren’t showing them, they tied eight telephoto lenses together to create their own little homemade array. And then, thanks to their new invention, they quickly discovered seven new galaxies.
Briefly: Although the massive 66-antenna ALMA array in Chile’s Atacama desert has been online since last October when the last of its 12m radios was installed, the system has only been operating at a fraction of its potential resolution. But with the delicate delivery of 12 additional 7m radio dishes — the last of which just reached the top of the plateau just last Friday — the ALMA is finally set to stare into the deepest depths of the observable universe. [ESO]
Exoplanets — planets orbiting stars that aren’t our Sun — seem to be popping out of the cosmic woodwork now that we know where and how to look for them. The Kepler mission alone has discovered 961 of them, and it’s only looking at a tiny sliver of distant space. Just think of how many we’ll find when the new James Lick robotic telescope comes online and starts surveying one thousand of our closest solar neighbours.