Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Slashdot videos: Now with more Slashdot!

  • View

  • Discuss

  • Share

We've improved Slashdot's video section; now you can view our video interviews, product close-ups and site visits with all the usual Slashdot options to comment, share, etc. No more walled garden! It's a work in progress -- we hope you'll check it out (Learn more about the recent updates).

Space Science

Gas Clouds As Giant Telescopes 116

Posted by timothy
from the repurposing dept.
allrong writes "Astronomers have found a way to harness clouds of gas in space to make a natural 'telescope' more powerful than any manmade telescope currently in operation. Read the press release or take a look at the images and description of the process."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Gas Clouds As Giant Telescopes

Comments Filter:
  • You know (Score:4, Funny)

    by I Am The Owl (531076) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:41PM (#5689914) Homepage Journal
    People always reported seeing visions when I farted, but I never knew there was a scientific basis for their claims!
    • Figures (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:55PM (#5689993)
      Slashdot links to story about some pretty fascinating science and the highest rated comment is a fart joke.

      Somehow I am not surprised.
      • Some of us older farts have rediscovered the humor in fart jokes.

        Especially after a night out at a mexican restaurant drinking Corona, and at 3 AM the cats explode in all directions off the bed and your SO goes to sleep, with the cats, in the living room on the loveseat.

        She didn't appreciate my giggles, either. I was informed the next morning that at my age, it was undignified to giggle about something as simple as a fart joke. Heh.

    • I was going to say something similar like now when I pull down my pants and fart in someones face I can now say I was helping them see a moon or how farting in a mirror well help you see Uranus. Aparrently, we're too childish for AC though so whatever. I'll keep my joke to myself and not share so poo poo on you AC, who's childish now huh? huh? I know you are but what am I? I know you are but what am I?

      Get over it, /. jokes, I think we all appreciate how cool this is but the write-up said gas clouds, I m

  • Ok, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slimsam1 (591962) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:42PM (#5689923)
    Will we be able to focus on something of our choosing, not just something that happens to be on the other side of a gas cloud?
    • Not unless you can harness the power of the Q Continuum and move the cloud wherever you want.
    • Re:Ok, but... (Score:4, Informative)

      by pVoid (607584) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:21PM (#5690115)
      Follow the link.

      It looks like they are going to extrapolate the original signals by measuring the same image while moving in different directions (thanks to earth's orbit). (I guess the assumption is that the glass clouds are immobile in shape and position).

      Doesn't seem to be a heretic claim.

    • Moderators, please stop modding up questions that are answered in the article.
  • by The Terrorists (619137) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:43PM (#5689928)
    Extracting data from these requires as many monitoring facilities and personnel as a real telescope. If you call this a telescope budget cutters will claim we don't need to build new hardware out of the federal budget.
    • Especially when they get it mixed up with atmospheric clouds..

      "We don't need new telescopes! Just look through a cloud!"
    • I saw these posts right after each other:

      gas (Score:4, Funny)
      by SirHalcyon (267061) on Tuesday April 08, @09:42PM (#5689925)

      Finally a worth cause to donate the result of all the bean burritos I eat.

      Don't call it a telescope. (Score:5, Interesting)
      by The Terrorists (619137) on Tuesday April 08, @09:43PM (#5689928)

      Extracting data from these requires as many monitoring facilities and personnel as a real telescope.



  • Practicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digital bath (650895) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:43PM (#5689929) Homepage
    Sure, they might be able to see things in super-fine detail. But how often is there going to be a gas cloud that acts as a perfect lens for whatever you want to look at?

    It's still a cool idea, however.
    • Re:Practicality? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ddd2k (585046)
      Im guessing the real value of this is the huge range range of the "telescope", image the focal length of a lens with diameter of a planet, now how many times larger is that compared to the hubble? although the resolving power is questionable.
      Hence, it is not useful for the contribution to existing research but discovering new phenomenons in the universe.
    • Re:Practicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pVoid (607584) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:25PM (#5690133)
      Follow the second link...

      They aren't looking to make nice Kodak pictures to hang up on walls. They are measuring x-rays and radio waves from very far away. And they seem to be extrapolating the values by using the velocity of the earth. The gas clouds don't need to be focused... the focus is done by taking many many 'blurry' images, and constructing a non blurry one. It seems the point is to actually catch signals that are otherwise too faint... rather than 'zoom' in more on things that are too small.

      (That's what I understood at least).

      • "It seems the point is to actually catch signals that are otherwise too faint... rather than 'zoom' in more on things that are too small."

        No, the point is to zoom in on small things. Black holes are fairly bright (as long as they're being fed) but tiny. You may be thinking of using gravitational lensing by foreground clusters of galaxies to detect very distant galaxies behind them.

        • Well, the article was very vague.

          There are indications either way of what's going on...

          On one hand, you have the seemingly clear statement: With the new technique researchers will be able to resolve details about 10 microarcconds across [...]

          On the other hand you have these two:

          The gas cloud acts like a lens, focusing the radio waves from the quasar, making them appear stronger. [...](from the caption on the first picture)

          We'll be able to see to within a third of a light-year of the base of one o

    • by t0ny (590331)
      Sure, they might be able to see things in super-fine detail. But how often is there going to be a gas cloud that acts as a perfect lens for whatever you want to look at?

      When you want to see something, pull my finger.

    • Re:Practicality? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Guppy06 (410832) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @11:24PM (#5690407)
      "But how often is there going to be a gas cloud that acts as a perfect lens for whatever you want to look at?"

      Um... what don't you want to look at?
    • Re:Practicality? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hegestratos (66481) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @11:50PM (#5690577)
      I just skimmed through the abstract of the article to be published, and I think the post on the front page is a bit disorienting. They're not using a bubble of gas the way one uses a lens (or mirror) in a telescope. Fat chance of getting a blob of gas aligned in between the object and you eye, and if that does happen purely by chance, then that blob is likely to be shaped unregularly, making a very, very poor lens.

      The big idea is that you can deduce extra information from what you see when a blob of gas passes in front of the object you're observing. Basically, the gas fudges the image in much the same way as the Earth's atmosphere does (called seeing) but on a longer timescale. The lack of atmosphere, as you all know, is why the Hubble is such a good telescope. If you know how the object you're observing was creamed, then possibly you can reconstruct the original from what you've observed. Extra information has to come from somewhere, and that means you're going to be observing for a long time to get some statistics together.

      I know it works for solar observations, since I've written code that does it myself. I can't find a good before and after example right now, but it's pretty impressive. I guess this will work. Neat.

    • Read the press release. The gas doesn't literally act like a lens; that's just a metaphor for the magnification effect it has.
      • Read the press release. The gas doesn't literally act like a lens; that's just a metaphor for the magnification effect it has.

        My impression is that it *does* act like a lens, based on references to similar optical techniques. Just an imperfect lens.

        But even with the imperfections, one can glean useful information from this. It is sort of like observing something at the bottom of a pool of water. Even though no single view gives you a non-distorted image, if you mentally average out the distortions, you
        • My impression is that it *does* act like a lens, based on references to similar optical techniques. Just an imperfect lens.
          I'm sorry, I'm so used to people not reading the articles here that it didn't occur to me that you might just have a different take on it than I do. :-)
  • by dfj225 (587560) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:45PM (#5689938) Homepage Journal
    So that seemingly made up excuse for the explosion of the truck in MIB caused by light reflecting off of some gas is now about to be a reality.
  • since when did clouds of gas have enough power to act as gravitational lenses?
    • Re:uh... (Score:3, Informative)

      by demi (17616)

      Read the article. The effect is caused by scattering and descattering energy, it doesn't have anything to do with gravity.

      • Re:uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by shadowbearer (554144) on Wednesday April 09, 2003 @01:54AM (#5691264) Homepage Journal
        and the really interesting part is that we could not possibly have ever done this without the processing power and algorithms we have nowadays.

        If these things keep improving...holy, for the first time in history, processing power is one of the strongest points in observations, rather than telescope resolution, light gathering power, or spectrum bandwidth.

        We need to get better scopes in orbit. Combine that with computer processing and... Wow.

        The future is so bright....I need lead shielding ;-)

        I haven't been that active in watching advances in astronomy for the last couple years, but what we're doing nowadays with 20 year old tech (HST (admittedly somewhat upgraded) and more modern ground telescopes is astounding. We've learned more in the last 10 years than we learned in the previous 200. Astounding. Astonishing. I wish I could have beat graduate level calculus, so I could be doing this for a career.


    • They're not. They're refracting, like normal lenses. A good example would be looking at something through the turbulent air over a barbecue.
  • the next question is how far in or out can we see? The magnification should increase distance also... who knows what we can see with this...?
  • With the new technique researchers will be able to resolve details about 10 microarcconds across - equivalent to seeing a sugar cube on the Moon, from Earth. (A microarcsecond is measure of angular size - how big an object looks. It's a third of a billionth of a degree.)

    Fucking amazing !!!
  • by boog3r (62427) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:57PM (#5690005)
    NASA requests 4.2 bazillion (USD) to fly out there and fix the optics...
  • by gomoX (618462) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @09:59PM (#5690014) Homepage
    This idea is not like an optical telescope (kinda Hubble) that can take neat pictures.
    Its an effect that amplifies the radio emissions of a quasar or any other source of these which pass through the gas clouds so they can be more easily read here on earth.
    BTW, you could RTFA which is very short, I promise.
  • by Lu Xun (615093) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:05PM (#5690047)
    I'm so glad they included those giant [] 5mb copies of the images. Those puny little jpegs just weren't enough to explain the process to me. If there's no scrollbar, it's too small.
    • Why is the parent modded as funny? Those large images are provided to allow sufficient resolution for printing in newspapers and magazines, pretty standard for a press release.
    • yah know

      not only does this post deserve to be modded as funny, but as insightfull as well

      what the hell were they thinking with those huge pictures?

      even the normal ones were quite easy to make out on my 19" @ 1600x1200

      i was expecting to see some sample images or something...

    • Those would be the gas cloud enhanced images.

      Seriously though, the bigger images are much better to print with. (Not that I can see many people printing this stuff out)
      • yea I know, but I was hopeing for something a little more interesting, like maybe a sample image taken using the process, or a picture of the gas clouds themselves.
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:10PM (#5690070) Journal
    I was recently reading in Astronomer Monthly magazine that scientists now believe they can get usable signals from Voyager, long after they should be too faint, because they are amplified by the giant gas cloud that hovers around Uranus.
  • by mao che minh (611166) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:11PM (#5690080) Journal
    Data: "Captain, I believe that I could alter our cosmotic arrays in order to tune it's radio signals, refract them off of the gas cloud using hyperspace signaling. This will allow us a more acute and reversed polarity view of the Romulan fleet ahead"

    Picard: "Geordi, do we still have the power left to do this?"

    Geordi: "I suppose it's possible.....I'll need to divert power from the shields and possibly redirect the conduits to decks 10 through 20, but yes, it can be done"

    *10 seconds of silence pass while the rest of the officers shoot uneasy glances towards one another*

    Picard: "Make it so. Number one, join me in the ready room...."

  • Yet Another.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by fatboyslack (634391)
    thing to thank Australia for. Do we rock, or what? For a country with our population, we seriously fight out of our division.
    Hmm. A little off-topic?

    Actually, that the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation) is financially supported mainly (I believe) by the (Australian) federal government to find/discover/create/invent things that benefit Australia. Does this happen in other countries? Quite often I get the impression, especially with the good ol' US of A, that most discoveries/invention
    • Re:Yet Another.... (Score:2, Informative)

      by eupheric (618980)
      The USA has the National Science Foundation [], which funds quite a bit of research at the university and otherwise.
    • "...the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation) is financially supported mainly (I believe) by the (Australian) federal government to find/discover/create/invent things that benefit Australia. Does this happen in other countries?"

      Canada has NRC, Britain has PPARC and some other things, Germany has the Max Planck Institutes, France has CNRS, and Japan has the Ministry of Sports (and Education. I think they might have rearranged things, but they should still have some food physicists take

  • I'd like to see an application that didn't require at least 3 sources here on Earth, because even though the lensing may "appear" more powerful, you'd still probably want to triangulate "through" it to get a really good idea what you're looking at.

    On a side note... A sugar cube on the moon... That's wild! Perhaps now we can read the warning label on the Sun, as those skin cancer commercials suggest. :)
  • Gas (Score:5, Funny)

    by DarkZero (516460) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:32PM (#5690150)
    Feh. Sounds like vaporware to me.
  • ban (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlknowle (175506) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:45PM (#5690210) Homepage Journal
    The first person to make a joke about, err, 'human produced' gas clouds should receive a lifetime ban from Slashdot. After me, that is...
  • Doesnt it mean (Score:4, Interesting)

    by happyhippy (526970) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:47PM (#5690217)
    you'd have to know the structure of the gas cloud down to its minute detail? How in hell do you find out that?
    For instance how do you calculate the thickness of the gas cloud between the earth and this quasar its supposedly magnifying in on? As the thickness of the clous would affect the radio waves of the quasar more than a thinner gas cloud. Whats the yardstick to measure the gas cloud?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @10:48PM (#5690219)
    I've been using a technique similar to this in my own research for years, except on a microscopic scale... I know, I know, microscopy sounds like a completely different field from astonomy, but they share surprising similarities. In both sciences, we use powerful instruments to see what we can't see with the naked eye. A telescope is a powerful magnifier whose focal point is at infinity, since for all intents and purposes the stars are infinitely far away. A microscope is like a telescope except its focal point is a few millmeters to a few hundred microns. Therefore, both instruments can take advantage of the same optical techniques.

    In microscopy, the limiting resolution is the scattering of light due to small air or water currents (depending on what your speciman is submersed in)--the effects are similar to twinkling stars caused by Earth's atmosphere. Sometimes you can evacuate the sample chamber and remove the effect, but this isn't practical for biological or aqeous specimans.

    Therefore, a technique called "reverse diffraction engineering" is used to remove the scattering effects. Powerful software is needed to analyze the subtle image changes over time. The software then digitally removes the scattered light and creates an image with a much higher resolution.

    A similar technique is being used to effectively remove the atmosphere above earth based telescopes, creating a "vacuum column" above them. I don't have a link, but this technique was demonstrated last year at a European observatory. A full blown telescope is in the works. This technique could render the Hubbel telescope, and the need to put telescopes in space, obsolete.
    • Cool and all, but I think you're describing a different technique.
    • AAaaaaahh!

      This IS different than just removing twinkling stars.

      This is similar (using your biological example) to using cell membranes to magnify DNA.

      Cant anyone read anymore?

    • by pVoid (607584) on Tuesday April 08, 2003 @11:56PM (#5690636)
      That telescope you speak of is the Keck Telescope, it is already functional, and yes, it blows hubble out of the water.

      Except what you are talking about is a different phenomenon: these people are using the gas clouds to actually amplify the signals they receive, not to decrease image noise. They *are* extrapolating in a similar way that you describe, but it's not because the earth's view is shrouded by a haze surrounding it...

      There is a sublte nuance there... A similar thing in microscopy would be to actually induce the air currents you speak of, and through a software analysis of the resulting image, obtain images that were bigger/brighter/whatever than if it were taken in absolute vaccum.

  • anyone wanna bet that some space scientist really just wants to use these space gas telescopes to try to catch a glimpse at a space alien chix0r through her space alien apartment window?

    maybe x10 will release a portable 10-ton spyspacegastelescope cam.
  • They say "gas clouds" like there are known clouds of gas following the earth. I am certainly a neophyte when it comes to astronomy, but I would have thought SOMEONE would have mentioned this to me at SOME point.

    What gas clouds?
    • Re:What gas clouds!? (Score:3, Informative)

      by PizzaFace (593587)

      They say "gas clouds" like there are known clouds of gas following the earth. I am certainly a neophyte when it comes to astronomy, but I would have thought SOMEONE would have mentioned this to me at SOME point.

      The science curriculum in a lot of schools doesn't seem to have changed much since the 19th century. (Interstellar gas was discovered in 1904.) These [] pages [] will [] get [] you [] current [].

      • All of the pages you refrenced refer to "interstellar medium" outside of the solar system.

        However, the illustrations on the explanatory page [] are wildly out of scale and show the gas clouds sitting nearly atop the earth. It gave me the impression of vast expanses of "ether-bubbles" floating above us, and was also a bit puzzled.
  • This thing would probably amplify the power of the Lightning Bolt!
  • I wonder what the people were smoking when they came up with this...
  • by ehiris (214677) on Wednesday April 09, 2003 @01:07AM (#5691042) Homepage
    Beans and beans over beans. :)
  • I understand how this could be useful, but I'm not sure I understand the practical scientific application. We can see things on the other side of the Gas Cloud, but if this is the only one they know of close to Earth, we should only be able to see a set number of objects through this "lens".

    We have the one test object, and we can refine it through this, but that would imply that we can only see a set number of objects. If the actual Gas pocket is too far away, would it still be as practical.

    I guess it wou
    • The gas cloud technique will hopefully allow increase the resolution of the radio images. Most radio telescope images tend not to make "pretty pictures" of the type produced by Hubble and other optical telescopes. However, any increase in the detail that can be seen of the radio jets should be very useful. There is still much that is not understood about the processes the generate the jets.
  • Yikes. I happily waited for a 9MB jpeg to download, expecting some sort of astronomical beauty, perhaps a new desktop background.... It finally finishes, I fire up the gimp, wait while it loads... and it's utter -crap-! Just an enormously hi-res image of the inane illustrative figures. Don't waste your time or bandwidth.
  • by mattr (78516) <.moc.ydobelet. .ta. .rttam.> on Wednesday April 09, 2003 @02:41AM (#5691437) Homepage Journal
    Boy I wish someone would post some links of a site like Slashdot for Science Articles which has less trolls.

    Anyway, this news is absolutely fabulous. Nobody has been asking though about how applicable this might be in general astronomy, for example how much of the sky could be covered with this technique, and whether anything like this effect could be created with manmade gaseous clouds.

    At the very least, does anyone have a link to the original scientific draft? I am curious about how extensive these clouds are, and whether we can just "dial in" any part of the sky which is covered by such a cloud for a significant portion of the year. In particular would this be something that could be used to get images of extrasolar planets? Who cares what wavelength, the new European lunar probe is going to use X-rays to see what elements are available, maybe we can do the same with these clouds? Only problem is the targets will obviously be more than 50 light years away in this case.

  • Oh - It's Uranus.

  • Natural Telescopes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 16977 (525687) on Wednesday April 09, 2003 @01:16PM (#5693884)
    When I was on an island research station last summer, I was astounded to walk out of the building one morning and see waves crashing against the base of a lighthouse, 20 miles away on the edge of the horizon. Something about the air had magnified the distant object so that I could see it with the naked eye. Ever since then I've wondered if it was possible to make an extremely powerful telescope by using gas. It's easy to get magnification by changing eyepieces, but the hard part is getting a nice wide primary lens/mirror to collect light and keep the image from getting blurry. A gas lens would solve that problem by using a huge bubble of heated air -- if you could get it to hold its shape well enough. This isn't exactly the same thing, since it uses radio refraction through charged particles rather than light refraction through air, but I'd like to imagine that it's a start.

    • What you saw is what is often labeled as a mirage. In a particularly clear atmosphere and certain conditions, light can be bent enough to see objects out of your direct line of sight. Sometimes they can even be magnified. The phenonmenon is common in deserts, less common around the ocean.

      There are some people who think this is a myth, but I've seen them myself, in Arizona on particularly clear days (especially during days when the morning wind has scoured the sky clean, then subsided).

  • I'm one of the authors on the paper on which the press release is concerned and thought I'd give a bit more of a description as to how the technique actually works.

    Remember the old saying that you can tell the difference between a star and planet because the stars twinkle but planets do not? This is because the angular size of the turbulent fluctuations in Earth's atmosphere responsible for twinkling are comparable to the angular diameter of a planet. So the planet looks as if it's "resolved" and its twin
    • <gratuitous praise>Ah, wow...that was one of the most lucid & instructive comments I've ever seen posted to /. in six years.... (Have you considered writing a textbook? Or are you one of those selfish astronomers that sticks to spending time doing science? ;) j/k)</gratuitous>

      Of course, I think it's one of the only times a paper's or topic's author has posted to the topic. I knew there was a reason I wade through the comments.

      Too bad the attention span of readers here (and volume of the s

The perversity of nature is nowhere better demonstrated by the fact that, when exposed to the same atmosphere, bread becomes hard while crackers become soft.