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Current Trends in Astronomy

In addition the the Current Events links on the left, there are plenty of other cool programs currently underway. In addition, some very exciting projects are just on the horizon.

  • The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is a monumental undertaking - mapping the entire sky with a 2.5 meter telescope and a very large CCD array of 30 chips, each with a 2048 x 2048 pixel resolution. The goal of this project is to provide accurate astrometry (star positions), photometry (star brightness) and redshifts (the velocity) of about 1 million galaxies.
  • The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope also uses an impressive array of CCD chips to capture some very impressive images of Deep Space objects. Other wide field imagers include the Anglo-Australian Telescope CCD mosaic. These CCD mosaics are important as demand for them will rise with the next generation telescopes.
  • The 2 Micron All Sky Survey is designed to image 3 infrared bands at the same time. 300 million stars and 3 million galaxies will be catalogued in the infrared.
  • The Submillimeter Common User Bolometer Array (SCUBA) will scan the entire sky in millimeter wavelengths. This has allowed Astronomers to view our own galactic center with unprecedented detail.
  • All sky radio surveys are also underway in both hemispheres: for the southern hemisphere, the HIPASS (Hydrogen Parks All Sky Survey) has mapped the southern sky of radio sources - one of which discovered a leading arm extending from the Magellanic Clouds indicating destruction by tidal forces by our own galaxy. For the northern hemisphere, the HIJASS (Hydrogen Jodrell All Sky Survey) is currently mapping the northern hemisphere for radio sources.
  • The Cosmic Background Imager is a ground based instrument designed to map the entire Cosmic Background Radiation. While mapping the CBR has been done, better understanding of the small fluctuations within the CBR gives vital clues as to the formation of the early Universe. Exciting stuff indeed. The WMAP probe is a space based instrument for mapping the CBR.
  • Already mentioned in the Current Events is the CHANDRA X-ray observatory. Orbiting the Earth, this wonderful tool has collected vital data on the nature of supermassive black holes as well as supernova remnants and planetary nebula.
  • The XMM Newton is also an X-ray observatory, but its forte is designed to collect data on the subtleties of galactic mergers and collect data on Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB's).
  • The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) is the compliment of the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed to operate in the infrared, the images captured by the SST is just as dramatic as the Hubble, just in a different wavelength.

The Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) will be the James Web Space Telescope (JWST). While it is commonly believed this telescope will take the place of Hubble, in reality it is an infrared telescope designed to improve upon the data collecting ability of the current Spitzer Space Telescope.

The king of the Earth based optical observatories are the Keck twins on the peak of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That will probably remain that way for only a short time. There are some remarkable telescopes on the horizon - either under construction or in the final design stages. Here are a few:

  • The Large-area Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) an 8.4 meter, three mirror telescope designed for greater resolution with a very wide field of view.
  • The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) will sport a twin 8.4 meter telescope on a common mount. The light gathering ability will equal that of an 11.8 meter mirror and will also have high resolution with a wide field of view. As an added benefit, the LBT is designed to image in the optical and infrared.
  • The South African Large Telescope (SALT) will sport an 11 meter segmented mirror. The design and purpose will model that of the existing Hobbey-Eberly telescope in Texas.
  • A proposed infrared and optical telescope of interest is the Euro50, the Extremely Large Telescope. It is a 50 meter mirror that will contain 618 2 meter segments. This telescope will be 25 times larger than the Keck.
  • If that is not big enough, another larger telescope is on the drawing board. Called the OWL (Overwhelmingly Large Telescope), this telescope will host a 100 meter mirror. It will contain around 500,000 individual adaptive optic components. This international collaboration will hope for a completion date of 15 years. One of the major goals of this telescope is to perform follow-up observations of data collected from the NGST.

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