If you are on Twitter and you love space, you should really be following @Astro_Soichi. Soichi Noguchi lives and works at the most remote site you can think of, the International Space Station. He sends back several gorgeous images everyday of our home planet, and a recent photograph of a new radio telescope got me thinking about astronomy and remoteness.
The stunning picture you see here is of the Chilean Andes at the site of a fledgling radio telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA. When completed, this telescope will give us unprecedented sensitivity and resolution at very high radio frequencies. Great advances will be made in the studies of star formation, planet formation, galaxy evolution, and more. It will literally blow your mind.
Am I biased? Okay, just a little. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the North American ALMA Science Center. Astronomers in North America will come here to do their ALMA science and work with telescope experts to get the most out of their data.
You may notice that Virginia is nowhere near Chile. As far as sites on Earth go, ALMA is in a very remote location. Far out on a desert plateau 16,000 feet above sea level, it is not a forgiving environment. Even the telescope operators will stay at a lower elevation site the vast majority of the time. The truth is, less and less of us actually GO to the telescopes to take our data anymore.
Maybe this is the price we pay for better instruments, better observing environments, and groundbreaking science. Maybe we are lucky that our technology makes this possible in the first place. But a little, romantic part of me wishes I could visit the days when astronomers were at their telescopes, doing it all “by hand.” At least I can live through the camera lens of a modern day pioneer!
Image Credit: Soichi Noguchi