Russians deploy 220,000-mile-wide radio telescope

The Russians have been busy. Very busy. So busy, in fact, that they've managed to successfully deploy a radio telescope with an effective antenna width of 220,000 miles right under our very noses. And it's a pretty neat trick, considering that the the entire Earth is only 8,000 miles wide.

If you're picturing a huge dish spanning the distance from the Earth to the moon like I am, prepare to be vastly disappointed. There's a trick that you can do with radio astronomy called very long baseline interferometry (or VLBI), which lets you combine a bunch of different little telescopes to fake having a much bigger telescope. In fact, if you have a little telescope in one place, and a little telescope in another place, you can use VLBI to effectively create one single telescope that's as big as the entire distance between the two little telescopes, which is what the Russians did.

The cunningly named "RadioAstron" radio astronomy program relies on a satellite called Spektr-R. This satellite has a 30-foot radio antenna on it, and it launched from Russia yesterday into an orbit that's just about as far out as the moon is. When combined with data from antennas on Earth (including ones in Virginia, Germany, and Puerto Rico), the Russians will have themselves a radio telescope that's able to resolve details about 10,000 times finer than Hubble can. So a few months from now, we might get our first look at the event horizon of a black hole in an entirely different galaxy.

Via New Scientist

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