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A Telescope as Big as the Earth

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Telescopes have expanded humanity's vision beyond what we could have ever imagined, but our eyes are only so sensitive and cover a rather small range of the visible spectrum.

Using the supersharp radio “vision” of one of astronomy's most precise telescopes, scientists have extended our electronic reach three times farther into the cosmos than ever before. This achievement has important implications for numerous areas of astrophysics, including determining the nature of dark energy, which makes up 70% of the Universe.

The continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is also redrawing the map of our home galaxy, and is poised to yield tantalising new information about extra-solar planets, among many other cutting-edge research projects.

The VLBA is a system of ten radio telescope antennae, each with dishes 25 metres in diameter and weighing 240 tonnes. From Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands, the VLBA spans more than 8000 km, providing astronomers with the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space.

Its unique power comes from the distances between the telescopes. This provides the greatest ability to see fine detail of any telescope in the world. It can produce images hundreds of times more detailed than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Its resolving power is equivalent to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.