Observational astronomy depends on its data, and thus also hooked in to the instruments that collect that data. So when one among those instruments fails it’s a blow to the profession as an entire. The collapse of the Arecibo Telescope last year after it had been damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017 permanently deprived the astronomy world of 1 of its primary observational tools. Now a team at the National Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) hopes to upgrade an existing telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia to exchange the failed Puerto Rican one and supply even more precise images of near Earth objects within the radio-frequency spectrum.
The Green Bank Telescope (GBT) is already the world’s largest completely steerable radio reflector. However, so as to succeed in near the amount of Arecibo’s 300m observing surface, the 100m observing surface of GBT would wish an upgrade.
Context image of the detail one collected by GBT that shows where on the moon’s surface the image was taken.
That upgrade is coming from a singular source – the massive contractor Raytheon. Raytheon itself features a long lineage of experience in radar from its years dedicated to developing military radar systems. Its Intelligence & Space business unit collaborated with the NRAO and therefore the Green Bank Observatory to perform some new tests which will feed data into the planning of a way more powerful imaging system.
That test took over two years to rearrange and perform, and resulted in a particularly detailed image of the Apollo 15 landing site on the moon. The researchers liable for the test also recruited the Very Long Baseline Array, a series of 10 observing platforms scattered throughout the continental US, the US Virgin Islands, and Hawaii, to gather data about the signal the GBT bounced off the moon’s surface.
The dots on this globe show the various site locations for the VLBA that was wont to collect the radio wave from GBT that was bounced off the moon.
That collected data will allow technologists at Raytheon and therefore the NRAO to create a way more capable radar system for the telescope. Estimated at 500 kilowatts, it’ll allow astronomers to bounce radar signals off of never before accessible objects, like Uranus and Neptune.
The upgrade to GBT will provide access to data never before available which compensate and replace what was lost in Puerto Rico. With luck, and tons of labor from scientists, that increased luck also will end in a far better understanding of our place within the system.