Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fuzziness: Astronomers' Plight and Delight

The Plight
When I point the robotic telescopes at out into deep, deep space, my hope is always for a sharp, detailed image of the star, or galaxy, or nebula that I am wanting to view. Well, unless I am lucky enough to have access to the Hubble Space Telescope, or to an adaptive optics system, I have little hope that what I eventually see is not a bit fuzzy around the edges. The image on the right is an example. You may click it to enlarge it.

That particular image is of the NGC7331 galaxy which is more commonly know as Caldwell 30. Don't worry about these names, we will explore a little about naming rules and conventions in a later blog posting. This galaxy is approximately 46,000,000 light years from planet Earth. Well good grief, some objects 50 yards from me begin to appear fuzzy, so why worry? Astronomers don't worry they just want to be able to know every little detail about every celestial object in the universe. This constitutes a demand which in turn boosts both the science and technology of astronomy. An example is the series of space telescopes (the Hubble was the first) that are being developed to give astronomers better insight into these celestial wonders. At the same, large, Earth-based telescope systems seek ways to also get sharper images. An important technology that is now in use involves the adaptive optics mentioned above.

The Delight
So how can fuzziness be an astronomer's delight? It is because it serves as the source of continual demands for better technology that allows astronomers to look farther and farther into deep space and observe more details in even the faintest of objects. An example of these technology breakthroughs is the work of an astronomer at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, who learned about the research that DoD had done that related to adaptive optics. To learn more about astronomer Jerry Nelson's brilliant and innovative work, visit this narrative link. To learn even more about the entire adaptive optics technology, visit this link.

Of course, the ultimate delight comes from the improved viewing that these technological advances provide for the astrophysicists and astronomers, and for everyone of us. Many amateur astronomers take advantage of Meade telescopes' "Advanced Coma Free" systems as well as the Ritchey-Chretien designed (LX400 series)telescopes that apply a part of the advanced optics theory in their system designs. Lastly, for those who await the first light of's new 1/2 meter scope, it provides an even greater advance over the Ritchey-Chretien design. To learn more, visit this link.

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