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DARPA's New Hi-Tech Telescope 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the shiny-new-toys dept.
coondoggie writes "You can bet that if there are little red aliens running around on Mars, or spaceships patrolling other planets in our solar system for that matter, a recently powered-up telescope built by researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency might just be able to see them. The Air Force, which operates the DARPA-developed Space Surveillance Telescope says the telescope's design, featuring unique image-capturing technology known as a curved charge coupled device system, as well as very wide field-of-view, large-aperture optics, doesn't require the long optics train of a more traditional telescopes."
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DARPA's New Hi-Tech Telescope

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  • by PmanAce (1679902) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:03PM (#35812248) Homepage
    Will this be exclusive to Men in Black or will scientists be able to use this wonder as well?
    • by deathcow (455995) * on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:08PM (#35812296)

      Air Force has huge departments dedicated to space.
      http://www.afspc.af.mil/units/index.asp

      They manage GPS satellites as well as scan the skies and catalog 10's of thousands of pieces of space debris.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        They manage GPS satellites as well as scan the skies and catalog 10's of thousands of pieces of space debris.

        If you think the US Air Force's space initiatives are about "cataloging space debris", I've got a HAARP facility in Alaska that I'm willing to sell you, cheap.

        • That's just for research, good sir! It's got a dot-edu interwebs address and everything!
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          If you think the US Air Force's space initiatives are about "cataloging space debris", I've got a HAARP facility in Alaska that I'm willing to sell you, cheap.

          They do need to track space debris if they're going to launch [more] weapons into it. Also, since you mention HAARP, it could theoretically be used to move pieces of it around... Of course, I think we both know that if you're in charge of tracking space debris then you also are in a great position to track everyone's satellites... Or ICBMs.

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            If you think the US Air Force's space initiatives are about "cataloging space debris", I've got a HAARP facility in Alaska that I'm willing to sell you, cheap.

            They do need to track space debris if they're going to launch [more] weapons into it.

            Surely ... wouldn't it be more effective to launch the [weapons, telescopes, whatever] around or past the debris, rather than launching directly into the debris?

            OK, perhaps if you're trying to "shoot up" (rather than "shoot down") a particular piece of space debris,

    • by piripiri (1476949)
      Yeah they'll generously offer it to the science field in fifteen years when it'll be obsolete.
  • acronym fail? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:04PM (#35812266)

    Curved Charged Coupled Device? Wouldn't that be CCCD?

  • Joking? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:18PM (#35812392)

    You can bet that if there are little red aliens running around on Mars...

    You're joking, right? That telescope is going to be pointed at little humans of all colors running around on Earth.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      That telescope is going to be pointed at little humans of all colors running around on Earth.

      Phew! For a minute there I thought they were going to be racist about their surveillance!

    • Re:Joking? (Score:5, Informative)

      by piripiri (1476949) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:25PM (#35812464) Journal

      You can bet that if there are little red aliens running around on Mars...

      You're joking, right? That telescope is going to be pointed at little humans of all colors running around on Earth.

      You're joking, right? You know it's a telescope and not a satellite.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's where the curved part comes into play. Duh.

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

        by Raenex (947668) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @06:29PM (#35813034)

        You know it's a telescope and not a satellite.

        Those two aren't mutually exclusive.

      • by khallow (566160)

        You're joking, right? You know it's a telescope and not a satellite.

        What do you think a spy satellite which images stuff in the visible light spectrum is? Hint: it's a telescope on a satellite in space.

        Having said that, this design seems more suitable to spotting rivals' covert space assets than to watching people on Earth. Maybe such a telescope at geostationary orbit could spot large scale changes in real time, such as volcanic eruptions, tsunami hitting a shoreline, or large industrial explosions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wcrowe (94389)

      Actually I should have RTFA'd first. Apparently it is a ground based telescope. I foolishly assumed that a device named the Space Surveillance Telescope would be based in, you know, space.

      • by piripiri (1476949)
        Don't worry, this happen to the lowest UID of us, too.
      • by 517714 (762276)
        No, that device was given a name which obscures its intent, and DARPA didn't make any announcements about it.
      • Galileo's telescope was for Space Surveillance too...

      • It's for looking at things IN space, which is much easier to do from the ground.
        • by wcrowe (94389)

          The word space is redundant. All telescopes of this size are for looking at things in space. The Hubble Space Telescope is called as such because it is floating in space.

  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:27PM (#35812478)
    Would this telescope find pieces of apollo on the moon? Jamie and Adam's interview on Colbert Report [colbertnation.com] claims that modern telescopes arent capable of seeing the debris on the moon. I know they're taking a jab at the US faking a moon landing, but im still curious
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They likely only mentioned that due to a prior experience where they proved the moon landing was not faked. Since they could not use a telescope to view debris left by us on the moon they used a high power laser to hit a reflector we left on the moon and receive the bounced beam.

      The same episode also explains why a telescope can not view debris on the moon. Find it and watch it.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Colbert asked them directly. They said they'd researched it, and were told that even Hubble can't see the gear and footprints.

        And it was The Big Bang Theory that verified the existence of a reflector on the moon [wikia.com].

    • by blair1q (305137)

      They said Hubble couldn't.

      Webb might be able to.

    • Telescopes from Earth can't but those in orbit around the Moon can and have photographed the Apollo landing sites in enough detail to show the landers, the equipment left behind and the astronauts foot prints.
      • by mosb1000 (710161)

        The problem with that is people can't orbit a telescope around the moon for themselves to verify (so images of these things on the moon are just part of the conspiracy). Even if they could, they could still say that the objects being imaged were unmanned or something like that.

        • So the best thing to do is to take them to the moon and then take them outside the view the site directly. Can't have a helmet on as the visor could be an ultra high definition screen.
          • by Kjella (173770)

            So the best thing to do is to take them to the moon and then take them outside the view the site directly. Can't have a helmet on as the visor could be an ultra high definition screen.

            Now there's a mission we could fake, just make certain parts of it very realistic.

            • I propose we just leave the naysayers on the moon. It would be cheaper than returning the foolish little people.
    • Would this telescope find pieces of apollo on the moon?

      No.

  • The press release is a little breathless. Astronomers have been using CCDs for 20 years now.

    • by zakaryah (1344891)
      The point is that the sensor in this telescope is curved, so that the curve of focus coincides with the sensor making it possible to create aberration free images. I tried to find a description of the sensor in the SST but was unsuccessful. I think the Kepler telescope's sensor approximates this technique by tiling 42 flat CCDs along a parabolic surface. I'm not sure if SST does the same thing or actually managed to manufacture a curved individual CCD like this one, although presumably much larger: eye s [engadget.com]
      • by blair1q (305137)

        They're calling it "aberration free" but they're really saying "we're too lazy to deconvolve things".

        It's a CCD. It's going to pixellate the image. Badly. There's your aberration.

        Oh, sure, we'll all be stunned and awed at how "sharp and clear" the "images" look when we render them pixel-for-pixel on our puny monitors.

        But hold them up to the sky and they'll look like Atari game graphics by comparison.

      • by kyle5t (1479639)
        It is an array of "LL" type CCDs made by MIT Lincoln Laboratory. They have a pixel size of 15 um. The imaging circle diameter is anyone's guess, but I bet it's real big. A significant portion of that 3.5m aperture. This thing must have a ridiculously high image resolution, probably in the gigapixels.
  • Watching for debris in low earth orbit? Sounds a lot like watching for civilians in the streets! ITS THE NWO!
  • by trb (8509) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @06:02PM (#35812788)
    Here's an interesting 2003 article on curved focal surfaces, including CCDs.

    http://www.ptbmagazine.com/content/040103_ora.html [ptbmagazine.com]

  • The purpose of this telescope is fast scanning of large areas, not fine detail on single distant objects. By invoking red (!) LGMs, the FA author is just doing a poor job at sensationalizing something he doesn't understand (just the sort of vacuous hype we get too much of here).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kyle5t (1479639)
      This is not your typical astrograph. I was able to find out, I think, that the CCDs have a pixel size of 15um, which is a normal figure. But this is at f/1 (!), so that is about 0.9 arcsec/pixel. Not too shabby. Not enough to spot the little green men on Mars, though.
  • GEODSS replacement? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @07:09PM (#35813296) Homepage

    Sounds like a replacement for GEODSS. [janes.com]

    GEODSS, from 1980, was the first fully computerized telescope system. It basically looks at the sky, section by section, subtracts out all known objects, and reports the rest. So it finds new satellites, space junk, and even dark objects that occult stars. Three GEODSS sites are still running; a fourth is loaned out to Lincoln Labs to find and track near-Earth asteroids. [mit.edu] (Somewhat to the annoyance of astronomers who had been discovering comets and asteroids manually, the automated Lincoln Labs GEODSS discovered them by the thousands.) Each site has at least two identical telescopes, and some have a wide-angle Schmidt.

    One of the less-often mentioned features of GEODSS is that it can illuminate a target. One telescope can be used to aim a laser at an object in low orbit, to get a clear picture of darker objects.

  • little red aliens running around on Mars

    So they've already dis-proven that the men from Mars are green. That makes more sense as green sure does contrast against the red planet. I'd say this telescope has already proven its worth.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Red undoubtedly refers to the little fellars' political allegiance, rather than their skin colour. This is DARPA, after all.

  • Not if they're running around in another dimension.
  • Looking at this rendering of the design [darpa.mil], my first reaction is: how the hell can it see anything with that enormous chunk in the middle? Is that the secondary reflector? Or is that where the curved CCD will be housed (obviating the need for a secondary: it would be the secondary). And there's an awful lot of superstructure to hold that thing in place: won't that also obscure the field of view?

    Any optics experts want to field this one?
    • Looking at this rendering of the design [darpa.mil], my first reaction is: how the hell can it see anything with that enormous chunk in the middle? Is that the secondary reflector? Or is that where the curved CCD will be housed (obviating the need for a secondary: it would be the secondary). And there's an awful lot of superstructure to hold that thing in place: won't that also obscure the field of view? Any optics experts want to field this one?

      First note that it is reported to have a three and a half meter mirror. All mirrors in this size are really multiple mirrors that use servos to keep them in common focus, so it is likely really a ring of smaller mirrors.

      Second, of course the CCD camera is mounted in front of the mirrors. No high performance optical system puts extra optics in the way, and with a super-fast F/1 focal length it forms the image directly in front of the mirror, only longer focal length mirrors can extract the image to the side

  • Maui Space Surveillance Site (AMOS) would be my guess.

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