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Space Science

Small Telescopes Make Big Discoveries 37

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-small dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Hakeem Oluseyi, an astronomer at the Florida Institute of Technology and president of the African Astronomical Society, says his goal is to put one research telescope in every country, starting with African and Southern Hemisphere nations because there is now an amazing opportunity for small telescopes to discover and characterize new planetary systems, as well as measure the structure of the Milky Way. 'Astronomers are no longer looking at high-definition pictures but at HD movies, scanning for objects that change and for transient ones,' says Oluseyi. 'A 4-inch telescope was used to discover the first exoplanet by the transit method, where you watch the brightness vary.' Small telescopes capable to doing real science are a lot cheaper than people think. A 1-meter telescope costs $300,000 but reduce the size by 60 percent, and it falls to just $30,000. For example the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) uses hardware costing less than $75,000 to look at millions of very bright stars at once, over broad sections of sky, and at low resolution to see if the starlight dims just a little — an indication that a planet has crossed in front of the star. The KELT team has already discovered the existence of a very unusual faraway planet — KELT-1b, a super hot, super dense ball of metallic hydrogen so massive that it may better be described as a 'failed star' and located so close to its star that it whips through an entire 'yearly' orbit in a little over a day."
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Small Telescopes Make Big Discoveries

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  • by Score Whore (32328) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @07:52PM (#41625465)

    Really? Not even trying?

    • ... his goal is to put one research telescope in every country, starting with African and Southern Hemisphere nations because there is now an amazing opportunity for small telescopes to discover and characterize new planetary systems, as well as measure the structure of the Milky Way...

      Before human successfully put telescope into space, we did rely on telescope at the bottom of this gravity well to map out the stars in the heaven.

      Now that we have telescopes, are sending more and more more advance telescopes orbiting out there I hope someone can put some sense on that guy that we should instead encourage the future generations to design much more advance telescopes that we can put outside the Earth atmosphere so to explore more of the heavenly scenes.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:58PM (#41625973) Homepage

        As far as I understand it, the primary reason to send telescopes into space is because the atmosphere is opaque to certain wavelengths. There's also distortions caused by the atmosphere for other wavelengths, but we've found number crunching techniques that are cheaper than sending them out into space because on the ground we can build ridiculously sized telescopes like the 2800 ton E-ELT [wikipedia.org].

        • by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Thursday October 11, 2012 @09:50PM (#41626319) Journal

          Actually we are using number crunching to improve images. The air waves and wiggle kind of like the light you see at the bottom of a pool (it actually different because the atmosphere's upper boundary isn't the source of the moving refraction, but the effect is pretty much the same. It makes it hard to get a clear image especially if you average the image out over long exposures. The mirrors on modern terrestrial telescopes have thin mirrors and actuators that deform the mirror. So they slightly deform the mirror to accommodate the fluctuations in the atmosphere so the two cancel out. They way they measure the atmosphere, is by shooting a laser straight out from the telescope to create an artificial star upon which to focus.

          Yes computers are used to analyze the image to control the deformation, but its the shifting mirror that fixes the unfocussed image.

          • Modern telescopes with the ability to compensate for atmospherics are now so good they can work at higher resolution than even the Hubble could manage above the atmosphere. That is one reason they decided to end the Hubble's service. Better images are possible from the ground now at much reduced cost vs the Hubble. Or in other words they can be almost completely effective to remove the ill effects of the atmosphere. Then the limit to resolution is simply the diameter of the instrument which on the groun
            • I'm going for a further informative note here, noting exactly how this compensation is done.

              It's entirely true that modern telescopes have the ability to compensate for most of the atmospheric effects, and this is why there are major efforts in building larger telescopes, such as the E-ELT. But for certain wavelengths, the atmosphere is almost completely opaque, making ground observations ineffective, and requiring the use of satellites for these observations. Also, light pollution is also a major problem t

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You're right. You can compensate for atmospheric distortion of visible light with number-crunching and adaptive optics techniques. But there's no way that a X-ray or far-infrared telescope on the ground is going to be as good as one in space.

          There's a secondary reason for radio telescopes (which see through the atmosphere just fine). If you have two radio dishes 1,000 km apart, you can use them to make an image with the same resolution as if you had a single dish 1,000 km in diameter. If you put one of

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's not the size of your equipment that matters; it's how you use it.
  • by tomhath (637240) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:01PM (#41625519)

    starting with African and Southern Hemisphere nations because there is now an amazing opportunity for small telescopes to discover and characterize new planetary systems

    One has nothing to do with the other.

    • by cusco (717999)
      A country is going to site the telescope in the best observing site they have available. Every country will have different capabilities and opportunities. Peru is near the equator but has high altitude and extremely dark locations. South Africa has no high altitude locations but can view much further south. Iran has neither location nor altitude, but has an enthusiastic, united population who will turn off urban lights, including street lights, on important viewing dates.
    • People have been talking off and on about how to bring science to poorer nations that necessarily deal with very small budgets. This is more about helping people in those poorer nations (giving smart kids in those nations something to strive for) than about making science better, although it does help with science advocacy among the global population.
      • Science , specifically astronomy / astrophysics has nothing whatever to do with 'helping poorer nations'. Funds for astro research are scarce enough without wasting it on political crusades. What we need is most scopes at best locations. If those locations _happen_ to be in 'poorer nations' - fine, but putting ground level optics in equatorial Africa is a waste of money ( no infrastructure, more heat noise & thicker atmosphere than nearly anywhere else) and investing in _any_ projects in Nigeria -

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Science , specifically astronomy / astrophysics has nothing whatever to do with 'helping poorer nations'.

          What a myopic viewpoint, dismissing huge portions of the world's population and their potential future contributions to science, which can only be realized if cultivated. The whole point of these telescopes is that they are inexpensive. It's not worth spending a small amount now for potential increased pool of scientists to choose from later? Are you also against science advocacy and promoting science education and careers here in the states, and think that should instead all be spent on new equipment fo

    • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday October 12, 2012 @03:00AM (#41627949)

      1) searching for exoplanets is hot at the moment, it's a selling point.

      2) these smallish telescopes are in the price range of poorer nations - not of the people maybe but certainly in range of the budgets of educational institutions or local governments wanting to please their constituents.

      3) the nations mentioned are poor, can't afford expensive stuff, and this may spark off general scientific interest amongst their people.

      4) it doesn't make sense promoting it to rich countries, because they'll consider it "too cheap" or "not good enough" or whatever.

      So yes, one does have to do with another. Whether a lot of new discoveries will come out of them remains to be seen but with more eyes pointing towards the sky, the overall chance of making discoveries is definitely increasing.

      • by cusco (717999)
        For obvious reasons most of the telescopes would be situated in rural areas. In almost any rural area in the underdeveloped world the local teacher(s) will be associated with the project in some way, as operator, assistant, or just negotiating with/for the local people. Having a teacher involved is a guarantee of having the students involved in a rural area, and very likely a few of the parents then as well. If the regional director of schools has half a brain they'll be interested enough in the program
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          For obvious reasons most of the telescopes would be situated in rural areas.

          Not so obvious to put them in rural areas.

          Putting them in urban areas has issues with light pollution, but has the advantage of a potentially much larger audience.

          Depends on whether you want to use this primarily as research tool, or demonstration tool. Both are important. The vast majority of people is not really interested in staying up late at night looking at tiny little lights in the sky; the tiny minority that is interested can definitely use something like this to kindle that interest. From a city yo

  • It's not the size of the Telescope but how you use it...

    - or -

    It's not the size of the Telescope but the magic in it...

    • Re:I'll say it... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @09:50PM (#41626321)

      diameter is more important than length

      • In fact unless you are using a folded optical design, shorter is often better (assuming you can maintain optical quality). The shortness of a telescope is measured by its focal ratio, with the lower the ratio the shorter the telescope. Galileo's telescope was F/12, and many of 17th and 18th centuries were F/60. The Mt. Palomar telescope is F/3.8, the Keck Telescope is F/1.75, KELT is F/1.8.

        • by rubycodez (864176)

          interesting! although I expect field of view to be consideration too.

          also it could be I might have been joking about something other than telescopes.

  • See also TRAPPIST to Scout the Sky and Uncover Exoplanets and Comets [eso.org]. (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) A robotic .6 meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory on the outskirts of the Atacama Desert in Chile.
  • by dlgeek (1065796) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:06AM (#41628263)
    There was an incredibly relevant article[1] in Analog Science Fiction & Fact recently. The basic premise is that it's not just smaller research telescopes that are valuable - in astronomy, even amateur observations are incredibly valuable (often because they happen to notice things the bigger telescopes aren't pointed at). The author details a large number of findings that are rooted in observations by amateurs.

    Mr. Olusevi shouldn't limit himself to just $30,000 research telescopes. He should also be trying to get $300 telescopes in backyards all over Africa.

    [1] Plummer, Alan. Atlas' Apprentices: Amateur Contributions in Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • There are these surveys collecting vast amounts of image and other sensor data and posting them on the internet. I have a friend who has discovered a couple dozen asteroids and comets trolling the SOHO solar image data. You might start with some the crowdsourcing astronomical projects at Astronomical Zoo and Mechanical Turk to get your feet wet.
  • The dramatic improvement in sensor and computing technology over the last twenty years are in large part behind the greater viability of the smaller scopes.

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