February 19, 2019

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

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.

10.04.10- Radio Astronomers Refine Celestial Grid.

Getting a good fix on positions both on the Earth and in the sky is tougher than it may sound. Tectonic plates move. The Moon raises tides under our feet. The whole planet orbits our Sun, which is itself flying about the galaxy and getting jostled by other stars, as the galaxies themselves are flying apart. Last year, however, astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array of radio telescopes tackled the problem in a novel way. Using 35 radio telescopes worldwide, they monitored and measured the positions 243 quasars over a 24 hour period starting November 18th 2008. Quasars are ideal candidates for this kind of measurement because of their extreme distance. These high precession measurements break the old record for the most radio dishes employed, which stood at 23. The telescopes utilized a method known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, which combines simultaneous signals collected over individually spaced telescopes to increase resolution power. Headquartered in Socorro, New Mexico, the VLA’s data will not only refine astronomical measurements, but increase the accuracy of geophysical science as well.