Looking Up

Recently I picked up the hobby of astrophotography.

It’s exactly what it sounds like, pointing cameras and telescopes at the sky and taking photos of whatever object is interesting you in the moment.

It’s a rewarding hobby, if also a little bit frustrating.

For as long as people have been staring up through telescopes, there’s been a problem that we’ve had to overcome.

Atmospheric turbulence is a pain. It can take a clear picture of a planet of nebula and make it a blurry mess. This was solved for the scientific community in the 90s when the Hubble telescope was launched. Since then, for over thirty years, Hubble has graced humanity with thousands of hours of data, including images like this.

WIDE FIELD IMAGE OF GALAXY CLUSTER SDSS J1110+6459 Image Credit: NASA Hubble

That image shows hundreds of galaxies, containing billions of stars. It’s also a fantastic example of gravitational lensing, an effect that I’ll cover in another post.

Hubble isn’t the most powerful telescope that humanity has built, but because there is no atmosphere interrupting its field of view, it’s able to provide us with images like the one above and this.

NGC 2276 Image Credit: NASSA Hubble

However, the problem of atmospheric interference may well be solved.

Led by researchers at the Australian National University, a new type of instrument is being developed called MAVIS.

MAVIS stands for Multi-conjugate-adaptive-optics Assisted Visible Imager and Spectrograph, and essentially what that means is that this instrument is able to adapt to whatever atmospheric conditions there may be.

It will be attached to the Very Large Telescope in Chile, a telescope that already has adaptive atmospheric balancing properties, but with MAVIS that ability to adapt will be such that the images delivered will be three times sharper than those of the Hubble telescope.

Hubble second from the left and MAVIS far right. Image Credit: MAVID-ao.org

This is exceptionally exciting as it will cut the cost of deep sky observations by a huge amount. No longer will humanity need to launch a telescope into space for the clearest views of the universe; we can get them from the surface of our planet.

Further Reading/References

Science | MAVIS (mavis-ao.org)

Australia leads project to revolutionise astronomy – ANU

Home (hubblesite.org)

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