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Ken Tapping, September 22 2010
In the sky this week...
> Look for Mercury in the dawn twilight. Venus and Mars lie very low in west after sunset
> Jupiter and Uranus, still close together, rise around 7 PM.
> The Moon will be Full on September 23rd. At 7:09 PM PST on September 22nd, the Sun crosses the equator going south, marking the autumn equinox, and the official end of the summer season.
Chesley Bonestell was probably one of the best science fiction artists ever. In the 1940's and into the 1950's his art was in magazines and science books. Apart from his artistic skills, his reputation grew from his ability to incorporate the most current scientific research. The result was a visualization that illustrated the scientific results of the time in a way everyone could appreciate. His paintings are also an excellent way to see how ideas have progressed over the last sixty years or so. One of my favourite paintings shows a spaceship sitting on the Moon's surface, with the first astronauts standing on the lunar surface, making history.
In those days we knew that our landscape on Earth is being worn down by rain and windblown sand, and by water freezing and thawing in the cracks. We also knew that the Moon has no atmosphere, so there is no rain, wind, blowing sand, or frost. Therefore we concluded there was nothing to wear the mountains down. So Bonestell depicted the mountains as tall and jagged.
We cannot do much new astronomy without new tools. Each year brings new breakthroughs in instrumentation, techniques and re-examination of things we thought we knew. Our new signal processing system, WIDAR, is now coming into operation on the Enhanced Very Large Array radio telescope. The team-up of US radio telescope technology and Canadian signal processing and number crunching should keep Canadian and American astronomers busy for years.
Then there is our participation with other nations to build the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope ever. This will only be possible if we can develop a cheap way to make high quality, high accuracy antennas. A prototype dish for that system is running here at DRAO, together with a special antenna for use on the dish. Our innovation here is to reduce the cost of the antenna without compromising quality by using inexpensive composite materials rather than metal. This provides a lighter antenna with potential uses in communications, radar and other fields.
In addition to our contributions to Canada’s international partnerships, new instruments are being planned for DRAO. One, being built under a partnership with Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Space Agency, will be used for monitoring of the Sun’s behaviour.
Many of the new technologies being developed for astronomy have other applications, just as astronomical imaging techniques are used in medicine. So we have partnerships with industry to best exploit this potential of these innovations.
Finally, if you are interested in a career in science and technology, drop in on the 25th, have a look around, talk to scientists and engineers.