Ultrablack Coating Could Be Ideal for Telescopes

The team’s ultrablack coating can be applied to curved surfaces and magnesium alloys to trap nearly all light.

If you, like me, have dabbled with telescope making you will know what a fickle friend light can be. On one hand you want to capture as much as you can (but only from the object, not from nearby lights) and want to reflect or refract it to the point of observation or study.  What you most certainly don’t want is stray light to be bounced around inside the telescope so components (except the mirror!) are sprayed as black as possible. Unfortunately black paints tend to be quite susceptible to damage and struggle to cope with the harsh conditions and cold temperatures telescopes are subjected to. A team has recently developed a new atomic-layer deposition method which absorbs 99.3% of light and is durable too. 

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The LIFE Telescope Passed its First Test: It Detected Biosignatures on Earth.

LIFE will have five separate space telescopes that fly in formation and work together to detect biosignatures in exoplanet atmospheres. Image Credit: LIFE, ETH Zurich

We know that there are thousands of exoplanets out there, with many millions more waiting to be discovered. But the vast majority of exoplanets are simply uninhabitable. For the few that may be habitable, we can only determine if they are by examining their atmospheres. LIFE, the Large Interferometer for Exoplanets, can help.

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What Kinds of Astronomy Could Be Done With a Telescope on the Moon?

An illustration of a lunar telescope inside a crater. Credits: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay/NIAC.

For decades, astronomers have said that one of the most optimal places to build large telescopes is on the surface of the Moon. The Moon has several advantages over Earth- and space-based telescopes that make it worth considering as a future home for giant observatories. A new paper lists all the advantages, including how telescopes on the lunar surface wouldn’t be blocked by an atmosphere or impacted by wind, and how the low gravity would allow gigantic structures to be built that could be upgraded over time by astronauts.

“Progress on the big questions in astronomy, such as life on certain exoplanets or dark matter, will ultimately require high angular resolution, a large collecting area and access to the full optical spectrum,” write French astronomers Jean Schneider, Pierre Kervella, and Antoine Labeyrie. “All astronomy will benefit from the advantages provided by the localization on the Moon.”  

And even though it might be decades before we have a permanent presence on the Moon, the astronomers suggest we should start with small telescopes now.

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The Extremely Large Telescope’s Dome is on the Move

A webcam image of the construction of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) located on Cerro Armazones in the Chilean Atacama Desert, on January 29, 2024. Credit: ESO.

Construction of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) reached a milestone, with the structure of the dome completed just enough where engineers were able to rotate the dome’s skeleton for the first time.

ESO released a timelapse video this week of the dome’s movement, sped up from the actual snail’s pace of 1 centimeter per second. When the telescope is completed – currently set for sometime in 2028 — the rotation of the dome will allow the telescope to track objects in the night sky over the Chilean Atacama desert. The final operating speed will be at pace of 5 kilometers per hour.

Take note of the size of the humans moving about on the video. They appear like tiny ants compared to the immense size of the aptly named ELT.

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Review: Unistellar’s eQuinox 2 Telescope and New Smart Solar Filter

The Sun on November 27, 2023, observed using the Unistellar eQuinox 2 and the new smart solar filter. Credit: Nancy Atkinson and Unistellar.
The Sun on November 27, 2023, observed using the Unistellar eQuinox 2 and the new smart solar filter. Credit: Nancy Atkinson and Unistellar.

I recently had the chance to try out one of Unistellar’s smart telescopes, the eQuinox 2. Unparalleled in its ease of use, I was literally viewing distant nebula, galaxies, and star clusters within 15 minutes of opening the box.

I also had the opportunity to try out Unistellar’s new Smart Solar Filter, which I’ll discuss more below. But first, more about the telescope itself:

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Telescopes Didn’t Always Play Nicely with Each Other. That’s About to Change

This composite image of the GOODS-South field — the result of an extremely deep survey using two of the four giant 8.2-metre telescopes composing ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and a unique custom-built filter — shows some of the faintest galaxies ever seen.
Composite image of the GOODS-South field, result of a deep survey using two 8.2-metre telescopes (Credit : ESO/M Hayes)

Those readers who have dabbled with astronomical imaging will be familiar with the technique of taking multiple images and then stacking them together to improve the strength of the signal, yielding better images. Taking this technique further many research projects require date of the same object spanning longer time frames than a nights observing. This data is usually captured from different locations and under different conditions. The problem has been matching the observations across all these survey runs. Researchers have shared a new approach to calculate if separate images of the same object will yield additional signals or just generate useless noise.

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Next Generation Space Telescopes Could Use Deformable Mirrors to Image Earth-Sized Worlds

The Roman Space Telescope Coronagraph during assembly of the static optics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Credits: Dr. Eduardo Bendek

Observing distant objects is no easy task, thanks to our planet’s thick and fluffy atmosphere. As light passes through the upper reaches of our atmosphere, it is refracted and distorted, making it much harder to discern objects at cosmological distances (billions of light years away) and small objects in adjacent star systems like exoplanets. For astronomers, there are only two ways to overcome this problem: send telescopes to space or equip telescopes with mirrors that can adjust to compensate for atmospheric distortion.

Since 1970, NASA and the ESA have launched more than 90 space telescopes into orbit, and 29 of these are still active, so it’s safe to say we’ve got that covered! But in the coming years, a growing number of ground-based telescopes will incorporate adaptive optics (AOs) that will allow them to perform cutting-edge astronomy. This includes the study of exoplanets, which next-generation telescopes will be able to observe directly using coronographs and self-adjusting mirrors. This will allow astronomers to obtain spectra directly from their atmospheres and characterize them to see if they are habitable.

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The First Color Pictures From Euclid

Many a space enthusiast first became interested in the topic when they saw some astounding picture taken by one of the world’s great telescopes and began to get a sense of scale of the universe. This author personally remembers the first time he saw Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field – arguably the image that has changed his life more than any other. Given the massive size of the universe, there are always more incredible pictures to be taken, and now humanity has a new tool for that task. Euclid, the European Space Agency’s dark matter/energy hunter, has released its first set of images – and they are absolutely mesmerizing.

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There are Ideal Orbits for Space-Based Interferometers

Illustration showing the three LISA spacecraft which will be placed in orbits that form a triangular formation with center 20° behind the Earth and side length 5 million km. (The figure showing the formation is not to scale.)
Artist Impression of LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (Credit : NASA)

Ever since the telescope was invented in 1608, astronomers have striven for bigger and better telescopes. When it comes to instruments to observe the sky, bigger really is better whether you are observing faint galaxies or planets a larger collector gives higher resolution and brighter images. A paper recently published looks into different kinds of orbits around Earth which support multiple telescope systems known as interferometers at different orbits.

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Vera Rubin Observatory Could Find Up to 70 Interstellar Objects a Year

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is under construction at Cerro Pachon, in Chile. This image shows construction progress in late 2019. The observatory should be able to spot interstellar objects like Oumuamua. Image Credit: Wil O'Mullaine/LSST .

Astronomers have discovered two known interstellar objects (ISO), ‘Oumuamua and 21/Borisov. But there could be thousands of these objects passing through the Solar System at any time. According to a new paper, the upcoming Vera Rubin Telescope will be a fantastic interstellar object hunter, and could possibly find up to 70 objects a year coming from other star systems.

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