Monday, October 23, 2006

In which we discover that radio astronomy can cause insanity

Last Thursday's lecture in Modern Astronomy was by Dr Enno Middleberg, whose scientific speciality is radio astronomy, using the 64m telescope at Parkes as well as the Compact Array at Narrabri to look at cool things in the universe. When I say cool things, I mean that he explained that the kinds of things you see in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum are much cooler and thinner than the hot, dense objects you see in the visual part of the spectrum, using optical telescopes. Some of the recent discoveries in radio astronomy in Australia have included the first double pulsar and a supermassive spiral galaxy about 20 times bigger than the Milky Way.

Dr Middleberg showed us a lovely movie of The Dish, not the one with Sam Neill, but a webcam at the site in Parkes that takes a shot of the telescope every 30 seconds and turns it into a movie every 24 hours. It's fun -- it looks like the telescope is dancing the night away!
He also admitted, when trying to answer questions about some of the technical details of the Compact Array:

"There is an infinity of miraculous steps involved, and if you arrive at a place where you understand it all, you'll go mad!"

That explains a lot.

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