A sharper “listening” of the Universe
July 13, 2021
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Did you know that astronomers also use radio waves to study the Universe? Radio is a kind of invisible light used in mobile phones and TV sets to get information from one place to another. The “beam” that comes out of your TV controller or wireless video game pad is made of radio waves.
Clouds of gas and dust contain different types of molecules that form stars and planets. These molecules also send unique signals in radio waves from outer space. And a team of astronomers in Japan have just developed a new, sharper radio receiver. It is capable of capturing radio waves from different types of molecules in space at much wider frequencies than conventional radio detectors.
By studying radio waves, we can learn about the physical and chemical properties of clouds around stars. This can tell us a lot about how stars and planets form - and also about how the Universe itself evolves.
This new receiver is especially interesting because radio receivers normally cannot capture that many frequencies at once. So a team working in Osaka Prefecture University (OPU) and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) has managed to “stretch” the bandwidth of several components in the receiver system of NAOJ’s OPU 1.85-m radio telescope. As a result, it indeed managed to capture lots of simultaneous radio waves from the (beautiful) Orion Nebula out there!
The main idea is to be able to apply this “stretching” technique to improve the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the largest telescope project in the world, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Image: Different views of the Orion Cloud observed at the same time with the new radio receiver. Credit: Osaka Prefecture University/NAOJ
The ALMA Observatory has 66 (!) antennas distributed along the Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert. To cover different radio frequencies, ALMA uses two receivers but can only work with one at a time. With the new technology, it will be able to capture different frequencies using a single receiver. That can make research faster, better and more precise than it ever was in radio!
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