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Space Science

Worlds Largest Telescope? 29

Posted by timothy
from the far-worse-than-needle-in-haystack dept.
AndersBrownworth writes "With a unique take on "Distributed Computing", the PhotonStar Project aims to search for laser transmissions from extra terrestrial life by harnessing amateur astronomers who have an optical telescope with a laser detector, a GPS and a computer with a net connection. I think it would be interesting to get a large number of computer controlled optical telescopes together that have GPS and CCD capabilities and build the world's largest optical telescope. The concept wouldn't be much different from New Mexico's VLA Radio Telescope. Given the falling prices of computer controlled optical telescopes, a project like this might not be far off."
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Worlds Largest Telescope?

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  • by wowbagger (69688) * on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @12:11PM (#6400842) Homepage Journal
    quoth the submitter:
    The concept wouldn't be much different from New Mexico's VLA Radio Telescope.


    Actually, it would be. The VLA works because all the signals are brought together and correlated - they are carefully time synced (to the nanosecond) and then combined.

    The same trick in the optical domain is called interferometry, and requires that the actual LIGHT from each 'scope be brought together - you need not only the brightness (which a CCD would record), but the phase and polarization of the signal (which a CCD won't record).

    So you cannot use an array of 'scopes world-wide to create a virtual array.

    What you can do, and what optical SETI is all about, is to have each scope looking at a different star (or star field) at each time.

    In a way, comparing the two is like comparing a 64-way NUMA cluster to a Beowulf cluster - one will work well with one big program of many threads sharing data (NUMA/interferometry), and one will work well with many small independent programs (Beowulf/optical SETI).
  • by MonkeyBoyo (630427) on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @12:48PM (#6401066)
    So you cannot use an array of 'scopes world-wide to create a virtual array.

    If you had read the linked article then you would know that they are proposing to look for pulsed signals from a targeted star. Statistical analysis of data from thousands of scopes does improve performance on this task.
  • by wowbagger (69688) * on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6401193) Homepage Journal
    And had you READ my POST, you would have seen that I was not addressing the article, but rather the poster's wild-assed and incorrect statement about making a VLA from all those amateur scopes.
  • by nomel (244635) <turd@@@inorbit...com> on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @01:12PM (#6401246) Homepage Journal
    in Australia.

    Site are here [skatelescope.org], here [man.ac.uk], and here [csiro.au].

    Some technical details are here [csiro.au].

    From the later,
    The antenna has "...a proposed collecting area at low frequencies (150 MHz to 1.5 GHz) of roughly 1 km2 (or 106 m2) - the equivalent of more than one hundred dishes of 100 m diameter. In contrast, the largest and most sensitive existing array has a physical area approximately one hundred times smaller than this."

    That's pretty big. :)
  • by spuke4000 (587845) on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @04:39PM (#6402904)
    I'm really not an expert on this, but as I understand it getting *very* accurate lat/long/alt measurements with a GPS is just a matter of waiting. Each measurement is out +/- 10 meters (approx.), but if you average a large number of these measurements you can get a very precise position. This takes several weeks, but it shouldn't be a problem in this case.

    Again, I could just be talking out of my ass here, so if anyone has more experience feel free to correct me.
  • by Doctor Fishboy (120462) on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @04:55PM (#6403052)
    For stars within our galaxy, the largest difference in line of sight velocity between a star with an ET laser system and our Solar system is about 400km/s, not enough to cause a red/blue shift from the visible to the infra-red or radio.

    Red-shifts *could* be important for looking at more distant galaxies, but looking for ET signals from other galaxies is ruled out, partially because the inverse-square law makes the laser beem too dilute over those distances, and the intergalactic medium would cause very slight smearing of the beam signal, and you'd have to use a much lower transmission rate to make a digital signal keep intact over the distance.

    In addition, even though a laser beam is 'beamed', optical diffraction causes a fundamental expansion of the beam that, over long enough distances, dilute the light down to noise levels - we couldn't see a laser signal for the light of other stars in the galaxy.

    ET laser searches are restricted to stars in our galaxy.

    Dr Fish
  • by Ole Marggraf (20336) <(ten.xmg) (ta) (farggram)> on Wednesday July 09, 2003 @06:08PM (#6403583) Homepage
    You should also mention ESO's [eso.org] VLTI [eso.org] here, the Very Large Telescope [eso.org] Interferometer at Mt. Paranal, which is just taking its first shots...

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