We all know about the FBI and the CIA, but you might not be as familiar with the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency responsible for our spy satellites. The NRO apparently has more of these things than it knows what to do with, and it's decided to donate two Hubble-sized spy sats to NASA to play with.
The best looks that we've been able to get at exoplanets are when they pass in front of or behind their parent stars. When that happens, sometimes, if we're lucky, we can get a brief hint atmosphere. For the first time, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has managed to observe a "super-Earth" directly, watching it glow in the infrared.
As part of its plan to harvest asteroids, Plantary Resources is going to be launching a [insert collective noun for telescopes here] of space telescopes. Whenever they're not busy finding asteroids made of solid gold, we might be able to use them to snap actual pictures of exoplanets around other stars.
The camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope just got its approval for a final design phase this week, which is exiting news for all you space fans out there. When it's finished, the LSST camera will be the largest digital camera ever made, and it'll be able to image the entire visible sky every single week.
By 2024, the largest radio telescope ever will dot the landscape of either Australia or South Africa with thousands of antennae spread out over 2,000 miles. The Square Kilometre Array will record the equivalent of an Internet's worth of data twice a day, and IBM is building a computer that can handle it all.
This is a picture of a small patch of sky, taken by the European Southern Observatory's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). With the exception of a few stars, every single pixel of light in this image represents an entire galaxy, and you're looking at more than 200,000 of them.
Astronomers use two basic methods to find planets around other stars: watching to see if a star dims when a planet passes in front of it, and watching to see if a star wobbles when a planet orbits around it. Neither of these methods are very good at seeing planets directly, but a giant zeppelin-mounted aerial starshade might be able to change that.
Next week, NASA is planning on launching a new space-based telescope: the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (or NuSTAR), which will start looking at all kinds of exciting and high energy astrophysical phenomena that are busily blowing up and/or tearing space to shreds.
Andrew Cooper put together this video of the two Keck telescopes in action on top of Mauna Kea in Hawai'i. There are some beautiful time-lapse shots like in the pic above, but the reason to watch this video is for all the behind-the-scenes footage showing what telescopes like this have going on behind the mirror.
Each of the four individual telescopes in the ESA's Very Large Telescope are, by themselves, very capable. But by working together, they're supposed to be able to link up to effectively form one single massive telescope, and for the first time, this has actually worked.