Finding planets out in the Universe is pretty hard. I say this despite the fact that two planets in Earth’s skies are aligning tomorrow to form one of the brightest objects seen in hundreds of years. But while the brilliant Jupiter and Saturn are always visible to the naked eye, Neptune wasn’t directly observed until 1846 despite being in our own solar system. We didn’t start discovering planets outside the solar system until 150 years after Neptune. Like Neptune, we find them (though indirectly), through visible light. However an international team of researchers may have just made the first detection of an exoplanet through radio emissions created by the planet’s aurora.
Although radio astronomy has been around since the 1930s, it is only in recent years that astronomers have been able to make high-resolution maps of the radio sky. Sky maps are difficult for radio telescopes because radio antennas need to be focused on an extremely small patch of sky to capture images in high resolution. But with modern antennas and computer processing, we can now scan the sky quickly enough to map the heavens in a reasonable amount of time.
This past summer, the Arecibo Observatory suffered major damage when an auxiliary cable that supports the platform above the telescope broke and struck the reflector dish. Immediately thereafter, technicians with the observatory and the University of Central Florida (UCF) began working to stabilize the structure and assess the damage. Unfortunately, about two weeks ago (on Nov. 6th), a second cable broke causing even more damage.
Following a thorough review, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the observatory cannot be stabilized without risking the lives of construction workers and staff at the facility. As such, after 57 years of faithful service and countless contributions to multiple fields of astronomy, the NSF has decided to commence plans for decommissioning the Arecibo Observatory.
Another main cable that supports the Arecibo Observatory broke last week, falling onto the reflector dish and causing more damage. This is the second time a cable has snapped on the iconic radio observatory in just three months.
The new damage is an unfortunate and devastating setback for the observatory, just as repairs from the first accident were about to begin.
Australia’s iconic 64-meter Parkes radio telescope has been given a new traditional name to recognize the Wiradjuri, who own the land on which the telescope sits. The Wiradjuri are some of Australia’s First People who have occupied the continent and its adjacent islands for over 65,000 years.
The telescope received the name Murriyang, which represents the ‘Skyworld’ where a prominent creator spirit of the Wiradjuri Dreaming, Biyaami (Baiame), lives. The two smaller telescopes at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory also received Wiradjuri names.
In less than four years, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon as part of Project Artemis. This long-awaited return to the Moon is to be followed by the construction of the Lunar Gateway, the Artemis Base Camp, and a program of “sustainable lunar exploration.” The creation of an enduring human presence on the Moon will also create many opportunities for exciting scientific research.
For example, astronomers want to conduct radio astronomy on the far side of the Moon, where telescopes could probe the earliest period of the Universe free of terrestrial radio interference. Taking this a step further, a team of astronomers recently recommended that a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon (or in lunar orbit) could aid in another important area of research: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)!
In the coming years, a number of next-generation observatories and arrays will become operational. These facilities will make major contributions to multiple fields of astronomy: exploring the mysteries of the early Universe, studying gravitational waves, determining the role of dark matter and dark energy in cosmic evolution, and directly image “Earth-like” exoplanets.
Unfortunately, this revolutionary development in astronomy may be going up against another major project: the creation of mega-constellations. Because of this, the SKA Organization (SKAO) – which oversees the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – is insisting that corrective measures be taken so satellites won’t interfere with its radio observations once it’s operational.
The phrase “silence is golden” is even more important for radio astronomers. The sheer amount of radio output created by humans can drown out any interesting signal from the heavens that they might wish to study. Those signals are also partially blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, adding more complexity to the challenge.
The obvious solution to the atmosphere problem is to launch space based observatories, and that has been done in the past. However, in near Earth orbit the radio waves emitted from radio stations all around the world can still blast any radio receiver with an unwanted deluge of signals. So scientists have come up with a novel idea to get the silence they so crave: park a probe on the far side of the moon.
On Aug. 10th, a little over a month ago, the iconic Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when an auxiliary cable broke and struck the reflector dish. This cable struck the observatory’s Gregorian Dome on its way down and twisted an access platform before landing on the reflecting dish itself. The impact created a gash over 30 meters (100 feet) in length and forced the observatory to shut down until repairs could be made.
Since then, teams have been busy working to stabilize the structure and determine the cause. These teams are made up of technicians from the observatory and the University of Central Florida (UCF), which manages the facility for the National Science Foundation (NSF). For the past few weeks, they have been meeting with experts from various fields and laying the groundwork for an investigation and a rigorous repair schedule.
The Arecibo Observatory is an iconic institution. Located in Puerto Rico, this National Science Foundation (NSF) observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world between 1963 and 2016. While that honor now goes to the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China, Arecibo will forever be recognized for its contributions to everything from radio astronomy to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
Unfortunately, the Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when on Monday, Aug. 10th, an auxiliary cable that supports the platform suspended above the telescope reflector dish broke. The cable struck the Gregorian Dome (which sits on the underside of the platform) before landing on the reflector dish, which created a gash over 30 meters (100 feet) in length and forced the observatory to temporarily shut down operations.