Is there an alien civilization next door? It’s…possible(ish). In late 2020, we discovered a signal from the direction of Proxima Centauri (not necessarily from Proxima Centauri), our closest neighbour star. Named BLC- 1 by project Break Through Listen, the signal is still being analyzed to ensure it isn’t simply an echo of our own civilization – typically what they turn out to be. But why not just directly look at planets in Proxima Centauri and see if a civilization is there?
From space, the most obvious sign somebody lives on Earth is the glow from the nightside of our planet. Our cities emit light that’s shed into the Cosmos. Problem is that our current generation of telescopes are not powerful enough to see lights on distant worlds. But several researchers are testing the capabilities of the next generation of telescopes already on the drawing board. The finding? Yes! if advanced enough…or glowy enough…we would be able to see if another civilization has the lights on at Proxima Centauri.
By 2029, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in northern Chile will begin collecting its first light from the cosmos. As part of a new class of next-generation instruments known as “extremely large telescopes” (ELTs), the GMT will combine the power of sophisticated primary mirrors, flexible secondary mirrors, adaptive optics (AOs), and spectrometers to see further and with greater detail than any optical telescopes that came before.
At the heart of the telescope are seven monolithic mirror segments, each measuring 8.4 m (27.6 ft) in diameter, which will give it the resolving power of a 24.5 m (80.4 ft) primary mirror. According to recent statements from the GMT Organization (GMTO), the University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab began casting the sixth and seventh segments for the telescope’s primary mirror (which will take the next four years to complete).
In 2025, the Nancy Grace Roman space telescope will launch to space. Named in honor of NASA’s first chief astronomer (and the “Mother of Hubble“), the Roman telescope will be the most advanced and powerful observatory ever deployed. With a camera as sensitive as its predecessors, and next-generation surveying capabilities, Roman will have the power of “One-Hundred Hubbles.”
In order to meet its scientific objectives and explore some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos, Roman will be fitted with a number of infrared filters. But with the decision to add a new near-infrared filter, Roman will exceed its original design and be able to explore 20% of the infrared Universe. This opens the door for exciting new research and discoveries, from the edge of the Solar System to the farthest reaches of space.
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is getting closer and closer to its launch date in 2025. This Hubble-class wide-field infrared telescope is going to help astronomers discover the nature of dark energy, discover planets, and perform large area surveys of the night sky.
But even with its power, the telescope will be limited in its ability to examine planets.
A team of engineers is proposing to fly a follow-on mission to Nancy Grace: a Starshade. This petal-shaped spacecraft could fly in formation with the telescope, blocking the light from stars, and helping it see the fainter planets nearby.
An exceptional telescope gets an upgrade? That seems like a win-win.
Despite several delays since the program began in 1996 and a budget that has exceeded the original by several billion dollars, the launch of the JWST seems close at hand. That is if you consider almost a year away (the new planned launch date is October 31, 2021) to be close.
Everyone loves lasers. And the only thing better than a bunch of lasers is a bunch of lasers on one of the world’s (soon to be) largest telescopes, the E-ELT. Well, maybe a bunch of lasers on a time-travelling T. Rex that appears in your observatory and demands to know the locations and trajectories of incoming asteroids. That might be better. For the dinosaurs; not for us.
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.
Atop the summit of Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui sits the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS1 (PS1). As part of the Haleakala Observatory overseen by the University of Hawaii, Pan-STARRS1 relies on a system of cameras, telescopes, and a computing facility to conduct an optical imaging survey of the sky, as well as astrometry and photometry of know objects.
Ever wonder how modern astronomical observatories take such clear images of distant objects? Advances in mirror design have allowed for larger and larger primary mirrors. But adaptive optics play a huge role, too.