September 21, 2017

30.04.11: Pulling the Plug on Hat Creek; SETI on-hold?

Time expousre of one of the ATA instruments.

(Credit: SETI Institute/Seth Shostak. Used with Permission).

Amidst news of royal weddings, birth certificate releases, and the usual celebrity goings on, troubling news recently came out of the University of California at Berkley. In a scene right out of certain Hollywood movie, the National Science Foundation’s funding for its Hat Creek Radio Observatory will be reduced to a tenth, effectively shutting down the Allen Telescope Array. [Read more...]

28.04.10-Green Light Given for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

 

ATST: An Artist's Conception. (Credit: NSF/ATST/AURA/Tom Kekona).

ATST: An Artist's Conception. (Credit: NSF/ATST/AURA/Tom Kekona).

 

   Move over, SDO: the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy is going to kick the telescope envy game up  a notch.  The National Science Foundation gave the go ahead earlier this year to break ground on the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), a 4-meter Sun dedicated platform to be built atop Haleakala Mountain on the big island of Hawaii. When completed in 2017, ATST will be the largest solar telescope in existence. From this pristine site, the ATST will deliver resolution in the order of 0.1” arc seconds and have imaging capabilities spanning the ultraviolet to infrared spectrum. Originally in jeopardy of ever reaching construction, a deposit of $146 million courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act breathed new life into ATST.  8-year costs are expected to extend to about $298 million dollars total. ATST will join a growing battery of telescopes atop windswept Haleakala, including the Mees Solar observatory, the USAF Advanced-Electro-Optical System, and the Faulkes Telescope North. Environmentalists oppose the construction of the telescope, as they have for most of the instruments constructed on the big island of Hawaii. It is interesting to note, however, that where observatories are built land is usually preserved, as these instruments tend to need remote undeveloped wilderness to operate. In fact, the foot print of telescopes on the environment is pretty small compared with the average strip mall… perhaps a dual use/protection agreement would be equitable to all parties concerned? Whatever is the case, the future looks bright (pun intended) as both NASA and the NSF received boosts to pursue solar physics over the next decade.

25.04.10-First Extra-solar Magnetic Loop Recorded.

 

(Credit: Peterson, NRAO/NSF).

(Credit: Peterson, NRAO/NSF).

Artist’s conception of the radio flare superimposed over the Algol system.

   Radio-Interferometry has really shown its stuff as of late. Recently, astronomers have used a collaboration of radio telescopes based planet-wide to study a familiar variable star; Algol in the constellation Perseus. Known since Arabic times as “The Demon Star,” Algol is an eclipsing binary, where two stars are locked in a 5.8 million mile embrace and “eclipse” each other from our vantage point. This explanation has been known since 1889, but radio astronomers have added another unique feature to the pair; a long pair of magnetic loops connecting the two stars. “This is the first time we’ve seen a feature like this in the magnetic field of any star other than the Sun,” stated William Peterson of the University of Iowa. The scopes linked included the NSF’s Very Long Baseline Array, Green Bank, and the Effelsburg Radio telescope based in Germany.  Collectively, the setup is known as the High Sensitivity Array. Algol is about 93 light years distant, and is a variable star that can be easily monitored by even beginning amateurs with the naked eye.

LIGO: A Quest for Gravity Waves.

LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).
LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).

We had to go there… last month’s NASA Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center saw us undertake the great American road trip from Astroguyz HQ north of Tampa, Florida, to Houston on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and back. Ever the opportunists, we scoured the route for any astronomical pilgrimages of note. Then, like a bolt from the sky, a lone commenter drew our attention to a recent news piece we did on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory[Read more...]

Astronomy at the (Bottom?) of the World.

The SPT 2007 Team. (Credit: John Kovac/GNU Free License).

The SPT 2007 Team. (Credit: John Kovac/GNU Free License).

Some astronomers literally go to the ends of the Earth in search of data. That life-giving layer we know as the atmosphere can also be a plain ol’ nuisance when it comes to visual observing, and can make viewing in some wavelengths such as sub-millimeter, infra-red and X-ray next to impossible. Sure, viewing from space alleviates the problem, but payload weight tends to go at a premium and the line is long to use such premiere space telescopes as Hubble or Chandra. The solution? Many astronomers have taken to the Antarctic in the past decades, were the air is thin, dry, and the wonders of the southern hemisphere abound. [Read more...]