Ep. 133: Optical Astronomy

Posted on Apr 16, 2009 in Astronomy

Optical astronomy; now this is the kind of astronomy a human being was born to do. In fact, until the last century, this was the only kind of astronomy anybody ever did. Now we’ve got the whole electromagnetic spectrum to explore, but our heart still belongs to optical astronomy. Of course, with bigger telescopes, better optics and more sensitive detectors, even optical astronomy has come a long way.

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Ep. 132: Infrared Astronomy

Posted on Apr 13, 2009 in Astronomy

Today we continue our unofficial tour through the electromagnetic spectrum, stopping at the infrared spectrum – you feel it as heat. This section of the spectrum gives us our only clear view through dusty material to see newly forming planetary systems and shrouded supermassive black holes. And infrared lets us look out to the most distant regions of the observable universe, when the first building blocks of galaxies came together.

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Last week we examined the largest wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum: radio. This week we get a little smaller… but not too small! And look at the next step in the spectrum, the submillimeter. Astronomers have only recently began exploiting this tiny slice of the spectrum, but the payoff has been huge.

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Episode 130: Radio Astronomy

Posted on Mar 27, 2009 in Astronomy

Astronomers are very resourceful, when it comes to light, they use the whole spectrum – from radio to gamma rays. We see in visible light, but that’s just a tiny portion of the spectrum. Today we’re going to celebrate the other end of the spectrum; the radio end, where photons really stretch out their wavelengths.

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Ep. 129: Interferometry

Posted on Mar 17, 2009 in Observing

When it comes to telescopes, bigger is better. But bigger is more expensive. Way more expensive. To keep the costs reasonable while improving the sensitivity of their instruments, astronomers use an amazing technique called interferometry. Instead of building a single huge telescope, you can merge the light from several telescopes to act like a much larger telescope. It’s a technique that has already revolutionized Earth-based observing – but just wait until it gets into space…

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Ep. 128: Dust

Posted on Mar 9, 2009 in Astronomy

You can’t make a Solar System without a whole lot of dust. And that’s the problem. This dust has blocked astronomers views into some of the most fascinating parts of the cosmos. It shields the galactic core, enshrouds newly forming stars and their planets, and blocks our view to churning supermassive black holes, actively feeding in distant galaxies. But new telescopes and techniques are allowing astronomers to peer through this dust, and see these events like never before.

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