The New Extremely Large Telescopes And The US’ Waning Influence In Astronomy

For many decades, the USA has been at the forefront of astronomy, whether with ground-based telescopes or space-based observatories like Hubble and the JWST. Yet this is now at risk as US astronomers are forced to choose between funding either the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) or the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as part of the US Extremely Large Telescope (USELT) program. This rightfully has the presidents of Carnegie Science and Caltech – [Eric D. Isaacs] and [Thomas F. Rosenbaum] respectively – upset, with their opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times going over all the reasons why this funding cut is a terrible idea.

The slow death of US astronomy is perhaps best exemplified by the slow death and eventual collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope. Originally constructed as a Cold War era ICBM detector, it found grateful use by radio astronomers, but saw constant budget cuts and decommissioning threats. After Arecibo’s collapse, it’s now China with its FAST telescope that has mostly taken the limelight. In the case of optical telescopes, the EU’s own ELT is expected to be online in 2028, sited close to the GMT in the Atacama desert. The TMT would be sited in Hawai’i.

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Tokyo Atacama Observatory Opens As World’s Highest Altitude Infrared Telescope

Cerro Chajnantor, site of TAO

Although we have a gaggle of space telescopes floating around these days, there is still a lot of value in ground-based telescopes. These generally operate in the visible light spectrum, but infrared ground-based telescopes can also work on Earth, assuming that you put them somewhere high in an area where the atmosphere is short on infrared-radiation absorbing moisture. The newly opened Universe of Tokyo Atacama Observatory (TAO) with its 6.5 meter silver-coated primary mirror is therefore placed on the summit of Cerro Chajnantor at 5,640 meters, in the Atacama desert in Chile.

This puts it only a few kilometers away from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), but at a higher altitude by about 580 meters. As noted on the University of Tokyo project site (in Japanese), the project began in 1998, with a miniTAO 1 meter mirror version being constructed in 2009 to provide data for the 6.5 meter version. TAO features two instruments (SWIMS and MIMIZUKU), each with a specific mission profile, but both focused on deciphering the clues about the Universe’s early history, a task for which infrared is significantly more suitable due to redshift.

Wireless Telescope Guidance You Can Build On The Cheap

Telescopes are fun to point around the sky, but they’re even better when you have some idea of what you’re actually looking at. Experienced sky-gazers love nothing more than whipping out some quality glassware and pointing it to the heavens to try and view some photons from some fancy celestial point of interest. To aid your own endeavors in this realm, you might consider following [aeropic’s] example in building a capable wireless telescope DSC.

Yes, [aeropic] built a capable digital setting circle (DSC) which can be used to quickly point a telescope at objects in the sky, with the aid of the right astronomical software. An ESP32 board runs the show, using AS5600 positional encoders on each axis of the telescope to understand the device’s orientation. The encoders are attached via 3D-printed components to track the motion of the telescope accurately. It can then be paired over Bluetooth with a smartphone running an app like Skysafari. Once calibrated on some known stars, the app can then read the encoder outputs from the telescope, and help guide the user to point the device at other stars in the night sky.

The rig won’t actually move the telescope for you, it just guides you towards what you want to look at. Even still, it makes finding points of interest much faster and could help you get a lot more out of your next sky viewing party. Have fun out there! Video after the break.

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They Want To Put A Telescope In A Crater On The Moon

When we first developed telescopes, we started using them on the ground. Humanity was yet to master powered flight, you see, to say nothing of going beyond into space. As technology developed, we realized that putting a telescope up on a satellite might be useful, since it would get rid of all that horrible distortion from that pesky old atmosphere. We also developed radio telescopes, when we realized there were electromagnetic signals beyond visible light that were of great interest to us.

Now, NASA’s dreaming even bigger. What if it could build a big radio telescope up on the Moon?

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Telescope Rides On 3D Printed Equatorial Table

In the realm of amateur astronomy, enthusiasts find themselves navigating a cosmos in perpetual motion. Planets revolve around stars, which, in turn, orbit within galaxies. But the axial rotation of the Earth and the fact that its axis is tilted is the thing that tends to get in the way of viewing celestial bodies for any appreciable amount of time.

Amateur astronomy is filled with solutions to problems like these that don’t cost an arm and a leg, though, like this 3D printed equatorial table built by [aeropic]. An equatorial table is a device used to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, enabling telescopes to track celestial objects accurately. It aligns with the Earth’s axis, allowing the telescope to follow the apparent motion of stars and planets across the night sky.

Equatorial tables are specific to a location on the Earth, though, so [aeropic] designed this one to be usable for anyone between around 30° and 50° latitude. An OpenSCAD script generates the parts that are latitude-specific, which can then be 3D printed.

From there, the table is assembled, mounted on ball bearings, and powered by a small stepper motor controlled by an ESP32. The microcontroller allows a telescope, in this case a Newtonian SkyWatcher telescope, to track objects in the sky over long periods of time without any expensive commercially-available mounting systems.

Equatorial tables like these are indispensable for a number of reasons, such as long-exposure astrophotography, time lapse imaging, gathering a large amount of observational detail for scientific purposes, or simply as an educational tool to allow more viewing of objects in the sky and less fussing with the telescope. They’re also comparatively low-cost which is a major key in a hobby whose costs can get high quickly, but not even the telescope needs to be that expensive. A Dobsonian telescope can be put together fairly quickly sometimes using off-the-shelf parts from IKEA.

A black motion system with two stepper motors. A green circuit board is fixed in a rotating cage in the center, and the entire assembly is on a white base atop a green cutting mat. Wires wind through the assembly.

Pi-lomar Puts An Observatory In Your Hands

Humans have loved looking up at the night sky for time immemorial, and that hasn’t stopped today. [MattHh] has taken this love to the next level with the Pi-lomar Miniature Observatory.

Built with a Raspberry Pi 4, a RPi Hi Quality camera, and a Pimoroni Tiny2040, this tiny observatory does a solid job of letting you observe the night sky from the comfort of your sofa (some assembly required). The current version of Pi-lomar uses a 16mm ‘telephoto’ lens and the built-in camera libraries from Raspbian Buster. This gives a field of view of approximately 21 degrees of the sky.

While small for an observatory, there are still 4 spools of 3D printing filament in the five different assemblies: the Foundation, the Platform, the Tower, the Gearboxes and the Dome. Two NEMA 17 motors are directed by the Tiny2040 to keep the motion smoother than if the RPi 4 was running them directly. The observatory isn’t waterproof, so if you make your own, don’t leave it out in the rain.

If you’re curious how we might combat the growing spectre of light pollution to better our nighttime observations, check out how blinking can help. And if you want to build a (much) larger telescope, how about using the Sun as a gravitational lens?

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Balloon To Fly During Solar Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse was a solar eclipse that passed nearly the entire continental United States back in 2017. While it might sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event to experience a total solar eclipse, the stars have aligned to bring another total solar eclipse to North America although with a slightly different path stretching from the west coast of Mexico and ending off the cost of Newfoundland in Canada. Plenty of people near the path of totality have already made plans to view the event, but [Stephen] and a team of volunteers have done a little bit of extra preparation and plan to launch a high-altitude balloon during the event.

The unmanned balloon will primarily be carrying a solar telescope with the required systems onboard to stream its images live during its flight. The balloon will make its way to the stratosphere, hopefully above any clouds that are common in New Brunswick during the early spring, flying up to 30,000 meters before returning its payload safely to Earth. The telescope will return magnified images of the solar eclipse live to viewers on the ground and has been in development for over two years at this point. The team believes it to be the first time a non-governmental organization has imaged an eclipse by balloon.

For those who have never experienced a total solar eclipse before, it’s definitely something worth traveling for if you’re not already in its path. For this one, Canadians will need to find themselves in the Maritimes or Newfoundland or head south to the eastern half of the United States with the Americans, while anyone in Mexico needs to be in the central part of the mainland. Eclipses happen in places other than North America too, and are generally rare enough that you’ll hear about a total eclipse well in advance. There’s more to eclipses than watching the moon’s shadow pass by, though. NASA expects changes in the ionosphere and is asking ham radio operators for help for the 2024 eclipse.