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  1. #1
    Foam's Avatar
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    Default Basic Amateur Telescope /Astronomy (Theory) Questions



    Hello everyone. The forum title says ask "ANY" question, so I'm going to ask a few extremely noobish questions that I've been thinking about lately. I am completely new to astronomy in general, so I apologize at how fundamental some of these questions are, but, FWIW, I have been spending a decent amount of time researching them before I signed up here. They're kind of large questions to answer, though, so, any links would be appreciated so that I can pursue the info further rather than wasting your time.

    Basically I am trying to figure out what the limitations are of amateur astronomy and if there is any reasonable way to get around the general fact that a better telescope requires exponentially more money. I am also, likewise, trying to figure out what the strengths are.


    1. Does a telescope need a lens? I understand why it would if you were using the traditional method, but, instead of using a lens to focus light, why couldn't you dump a million CCDs somewhere (or 1 large one) and have a computer combine the information? Shouldn't a 30m CCD equal a 30m lens?

    2. The telescope arrays I've researched seem to require fiber optic relays between them to ensure the observed light from each telescope all match up at the same time... why can't you just sync each telescope with an atomic clock, store the data in a computer, and combine the data later?

    3. Can you overcome distortion (light pollution, atmospheric distortion, etc.) from a land-based telescope by compensating just with exposure? Say you have 1 telescope and all it does is image one point in the sky for a million years and then after that you combine all of that with a computer and some algorithms---wouldn't that be the same as imaging from space (for a much shorter exposure time, obviously)?

    4. A space-based telescope is incredibly expensive and obviously can't be replicated perfectly on the ground, but, how close can you get with, say, a weather balloon? This ties in with the interferometry question above---a single weather balloon telescope wouldn't be remotely close to Hubble, but what about a million of them?

    5. Realistically, how far can an amateur telescope setup see? This is more of a physics question as I'm not thinking about just visible light. My understanding is that the answer is "CMB", but, I'm thinking about later than that.

    6. What are the strengths of amateur astronomy as far as contributing to science goes? Obviously one can't do the same as Hubble, but, of course, Hubble time is very limited while amateur time is, by comparison, almost free. Is there a benefit to just picking the closest reasonably-imaged star/galaxy/planet/etc. and just tracking every detail about it for 10 or 20 years? I'm particularly thinking of actual data gathering as I appreciate that there's a ton of opportunities for amateurs just parsing data from existing telescopes.

    7. Which is the greatest problem in astronomy in general? Lens size? Background noise? Computing power and time? Lack of information available to us (i.e., blockage of various wavelengths)? Money?



    Again, I know this is a rather absurd post, but, anything you can do to point me in a good direction would be greatly appreciated. I'd be perfectly happy if you said "no, the fundamental problems that can be solved by astronomy require a trillion dollars of investment" but I am curious if, perhaps, 90% of those problem could be solved with a far lower amount.

    Best,
    Foam

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  3. #2
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    Seems like professional astronomers are currently on the right track-- take the Kepler telescope for example. Not a really big investment but it has already discovered over 1200 "possible" planets circling other star systems ( in just the first year of operation!).

    Remember that most of the large telescope observatories are usually funded by a combination of Universities and private foundation--- if there was a cheaper way to get the same result they would have already done it.

    And amateurs can still contribute in several areas of the science---

    For example-

    1. Exoplanet verification - this can be done with a mid-priced amateur telescope and a CCD camera basically from your back yard.

    2. New Comet discoveries-- if you have the WILL to go out every night before dawn and observe.

    3. Asteroid size and shape -- by doing occulting timing experiments along with other like minded amateur astronomers.

    4 . Variable star surveys

    and other scientific areas.

    How far can amateur telescopes "see" -- depends on the aperture of the scope. OR-- it's Dawes limit-
    The Dawes Limit: Theoretical Limits of Lens Resolution | Idaho Airships, Inc.


    Adaptive optics has already given "new life" to many of our ground based telescopes, and automation software is now very mature technology and can do photographic "runs" without human intervention. All this has occurred in the last 10-15 years.

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  5. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Foam View Post
    1. Does a telescope need a lens? I understand why it would if you were using the traditional method, but, instead of using a lens to focus light, why couldn't you dump a million CCDs somewhere (or 1 large one) and have a computer combine the information? Shouldn't a 30m CCD equal a 30m lens?
    It doesn't have to be a lens - it can be a mirror. But it must have some optical focusing device.

    Light from every star hits every cell of the CCD. The CCD have no way of determining which photon came from which star. All they can tell you is how many photons they received. In other words, the average brightness of the sky. there is no image.

    It is the lens or mirror that separates out which photon came from where. By producing a focused image, the lens creates a spatial distribution of photons that corresponds to the directions from which they arrived. So, you can associate THIS cell with THAT star by direction.
    2. The telescope arrays I've researched seem to require fiber optic relays between them to ensure the observed light from each telescope all match up at the same time... why can't you just sync each telescope with an atomic clock, store the data in a computer, and combine the data later?
    I'm sure you could. Fiber optic is probably cheaper.
    3. Can you overcome distortion (light pollution, atmospheric distortion, etc.) from a land-based telescope by compensating just with exposure? Say you have 1 telescope and all it does is image one point in the sky for a million years and then after that you combine all of that with a computer and some algorithms---wouldn't that be the same as imaging from space (for a much shorter exposure time, obviously)?
    Adaptive optics are easier and cheaper. And faster than a million year exposure.
    4. A space-based telescope is incredibly expensive and obviously can't be replicated perfectly on the ground, but, how close can you get with, say, a weather balloon? This ties in with the interferometry question above---a single weather balloon telescope wouldn't be remotely close to Hubble, but what about a million of them?
    Doing interferometry with telescopes that move in three dimensions is vastly more difficult than in two dimensions. And that is difficult enough. Probably cheaper to launch another Hubble.
    5. Realistically, how far can an amateur telescope setup see? This is more of a physics question as I'm not thinking about just visible light. My understanding is that the answer is "CMB", but, I'm thinking about later than that.
    I have imaged galaxies that wer 320 million light years away. There is at least one quasar that is supposed to be accessible in "ordinary" amateur scopes. And if the amateur is rich enough, there is no limit.
    6. What are the strengths of amateur astronomy as far as contributing to science goes? Obviously one can't do the same as Hubble, but, of course, Hubble time is very limited while amateur time is, by comparison, almost free. Is there a benefit to just picking the closest reasonably-imaged star/galaxy/planet/etc. and just tracking every detail about it for 10 or 20 years? I'm particularly thinking of actual data gathering as I appreciate that there's a ton of opportunities for amateurs just parsing data from existing telescopes.
    Some fields such as comet finding and lunar occultations as performed mostly or almost exclusively by amateurs.
    7. Which is the greatest problem in astronomy in general? Lens size? Background noise? Computing power and time? Lack of information available to us (i.e., blockage of various wavelengths)? Money?
    Choosing the right eyepiece!

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    Foam,

    What school are you attending? Based on these questions, it appears you are in an astronomy class.
    Thanks
    michael
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    Quote Originally Posted by Foam View Post
    2. The telescope arrays I've researched seem to require fiber optic relays between them to ensure the observed light from each telescope all match up at the same time... why can't you just sync each telescope with an atomic clock, store the data in a computer, and combine the data later?
    Actually that's exactly how the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) does it. The radio telescopes of this array are all over the world, so recordings using atomic clocks are shipped to a central facility to be combined later. There is also now an e-VLBI. This electronic Very Long Basline Interferometer still uses atomic clocks, but the signals are nor recorded but transmitted through large high-speed (10Gbit/sec) networks and correlated by supercomputers. This allows near real-time access to the correlated data.
    Last edited by Voyager3; 01-14-2012 at 06:48 AM.
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    Some really interesting questions and some very interesting replies. I hope that project which both China and India are working on to build a 100 metre Telescope will soon be finished and installed at Mauna Kea. This would be the world's largest observatory scope.
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  11. #7
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    The greatest problem for astronomy on general? Light pollution!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesandmyOpinion View Post
    The greatest problem for astronomy on general? Light pollution!
    I second that.
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