Saturday, August 1, 2009
Space: the final frontier - accessible from a backyard near you
Cheryl the 304mm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, Molehill Astronomical Observatory, Glenfield
Operated from Ohio State University MicroFUN is a global e-community of astronomers whose primary scientific objective is the collaborative observation of high-magnification microlensing events in order to detect extra-solar planets.
Made possible by an insight derived from Einstein's theory of general relativity where gravity is seen to be able to bend space, the MicroFUN Microlensing Project recognises that when light passes by the presence of a massive object such as a star, rays of light do not travel in straight line as we expect but warps or bends according to the gravitational pull of the object it has encountered. This effect can be measured so that when a planet happens to pass in front of a star the planet's gravity will behave like a lens focusing the light rays causing a temporary sharp increase in the brightness and apparent position of the star. These changes are then documented and recorded by both professional and amateur astronomers all around the world including several scientists working here in New Zealand who via the Internet can share their data as soon as they receive it. New information is now instantly available to any one who asks.
In practical terms projects like MicroFUN demonstrate how technology is redefining our world. In ways never imagined the Internet allows us to seriously embrace the visionary mission statement of the starship Enterprise. Science fiction has become science fact. Here the spirit of co-operation and goodwill really does ensure that by acting together human beings can explore strange new worlds; seek out new life and new civilizations; and boldly go where no man has gone before.