Prospects in Observational Astronomy


Values in Observational Astronomy

In the early seventeenth century, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei first used the telescope to look at the celestial objects. He made several important observations including phases of the Venus and the Jovian moons, which changed the contemporary worldview. The geocentric model of the solar system was challenged by his observations. Later, the heliocentric model was accepted. As time progressed, observational astronomy became popular in Europe. The Dutch and the English pioneered in the field of big optical telescopes. Among them, Sir William Herschel built a 20 feet long reflector one. He also proposed a theory on how big the visual universe is and he created a sky atlas of the Milky Way.

Herschel's 20 feel long Telescope, Courtesy: Royal Astronomical Society

Herschel’s 20 feel long Telescope                            Courtesy: Royal Astronomical Society

Purpose

Later in the nineteenth century, observational astronomy research geared toward the United States of America. A new group of professional astronomers emerged during this period. For example, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Astronomical Society, the American Association of Variable Star Observers were founded then. Later in the twentieth century, Edwin Powell Hubble discovered that the farther a galaxy appears, the faster it recedes from us. This is known as Hubble’s law. In the last decade, the Hubble Space Telescope observed the farthest object in our observable universe.

Using the Wide Field Camera 3, the Hubble Space Telescope observed the farthest object in the universeCourtesy: HubbleSite.org

Using the Wide Field Camera 3, the Hubble Space Telescope observed the farthest object in the universe.
Courtesy: HubbleSite.org

Importance

Observational Astronomy has been playing a great role in unfolding the mystery of the universe. Professional astronomers from all over the world are working as a group in various projects. The rest of the blogpost will highlight three major observational projects, which aim to reveal the formation and evolution of the universe.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) undertook the APASS (the AAVSO Photometric All-Sky Survey) back in 2010. This ambitious project aims to prepare a sky atlas of the entire northern and southern hemisphere in five different optical filters. This project will include stars which have the apparent magnitude 17 or higher.

Readers probably figured out that today’s research work involves collaboration among scientists at the highest level. So far, observational astronomy projects discussed in this blog focused mainly on observations done in the visual wavelength of the spectrum. Since late 1960s astronomical observations have been made in the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the light, such as X-rays, gamma-rays, microwaves, radio waves, etc. The NASA’s James Webb Space telescope is a visionary project, which will capture images in the IR (infrared) band of the spectrum. This project was threatened due to budget cut. The Webb telescope will be funded by the NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The last project mentioned here aims to do radio astronomy at a massive scale. The Square Kilometre Array project has been considered to be the largest radio astronomical telescope, which will be built in Australia and South Africa. Scientists across the Asia-Pacific nations, China, India, the UK, Sweden, Italy and Germany are hoping to reveal the mystery of galaxy formation, super massive black holes and many more through this project.

Readers can see that astronomy is an empirical science. People often ask whether these researches have any direct implication in real life. To address that concern, we can think of how the telecommunication science has been improved in the last decade. We cannot simply ignore the fact of having access to better computing and software relies on astronomers’ endless effort in developing algorithms, which analyze a huge data set efficiently. Astronomers inspire and challenge the computer scientists and it is because of the research that we have cell phone cameras, which can take pictures and transfer them to another device instantaneously.