Skip to main content

Not just about star-gazing: Astronomy changes our lives


This image of the Small Magellanic Cloud located 163,000 light-years from Earth, was rendered from data acquired by Ryan Hannahoe and processed by Robert Gendler, from equipment at the Fair Dinkum Skies Observatory in Australia -- an example of both the dazzling images we now have from space and the collaboration that characterizes space exploration and astronomy.

Through the capabilities of optics and photonics, astronomical telescopes and instrumentation systems have vastly increased humankind’s knowledge about the physical composition and history of the universe -- including our own planet and its natural phenomena.

And, again thanks to optics and photonics, these mind-bending data and dazzling images are not the purview of only astronomers and physicists. Images in particular -- arriving at Earth, as Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter observed in a recent talk, on light that left its origin in the cosmos in some cases before our solar system was formed-- are rendered on desktops and television screens everywhere, bringing the furthest reaches of space into homes, classrooms and offices.

Of course, new information prompts new questions.

Theorists such as Stephen Hawking pondering a Theory of Everything to explain some of those unanswered questions look for clues in the results of past and present missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Besides scientific knowledge, there are other very significant results of space exploration.

International missions bring nations together via collaboration. The LHC, James Webb Space Telescope and Extremely Large Telescope project are examples of major endeavors that align multiple countries and regions who otherwise compete in a number of ways. 

And spin-off technologies transferred from astronomical missions and space travel abound in our everyday lives.

For example, optical systems designers Roger Angel (University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences) has recently turned his attention from space telescopes to efficient solar-energy systems -- using technology originally built for studying planets to directly improve the green-energy options for people on our planet.

A long list of products and innovations ranging from invisible braces and scratch-resistant eyeglass coatings, to digital cameras and medical imaging technologies, to satellite communications systems, the internet, and many more have been derived from inventions patented by NASA, the European Space Agency, and other agencies and organizations as a result of space exploration.

What’s next?

Leading astronomical instrumentation researchers and developers will meet in Amsterdam next month and reveal future directions for projects now in play and in planning. You can get an idea of some of what they’ll talk about in a recent special section of the journal Optical Engineering on space telescopes. (Guest editors Mark Clampin [James Webb Space Telescope] and Kathryn Flanagan [Space Telescope Science Institute] are both participants in the Amsterdam meeting, SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation.)

Get out that telescope -- keep looking up!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Inspired

Guest blogger: Emily Power is a Winter Quarter graduate in communications from Western Washington University, and most recently social media intern for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. She is blogging on responses to the SPIE #FacesofPhotonics campaign, to share the stories of SPIE students around the globe.
It is a commonly known fact: students are the future. Around the world, students with ideas, opinions, and innovative minds are preparing for their opportunities to conceptualize and create the next advances for the ever-changing world in which we live.
In the field of optics and photonics, students are making a difference even now, sharing their work and building their networks through conferences such as SPIE Photonics West, coming up next month in San Francisco.
The SPIE campaign #FacesofPhotonics was developed as a showcase across social media to connect students from SPIE Student Chapters around the world, highlighting similarities, celebrating differ…

Grilling robot takes over backyard barbecue

Photonics has already made profound contributions to such areas as medicine, energy, and communications to make our everyday lives more efficient. (Hence the name of this blog.) People in all walks of life benefit from the incorporation of photonics technologies. We look forward to future advancements when the technology may help find a cure for cancer, monitor and prevent climate change, and pave the way to other advancements we can’t even visualize yet.
But here’s a photonics-based invention -- already demonstrated – that breaks ground in a new area: the backyard barbecue. Talk about hot fun in the summertime!
The BratWurst Bot made its appearance at the Stallw├Ąchter-Party of the Baden-W├╝rttemberg State Representation in Berlin. It’s made of off-the-shelf robotic components such as the lightweight Universal Robots arm UR-10, a standard parallel gripper (Schunk PG-70) and standard grill tongs. A tablet-based chef’s face interacted with party guests.
Two RGB cameras and a segmentatio…

UPDATE! Gravitational waves ... detected!

Update, 11 February: A hundred years after Einstein predicted them, gravitational waves from a cataclysmic event a billion years ago have been observed.
For the first time, scientists have observed gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window to the cosmos.
The discovery was announced on 11 February at a press conference in Washington, DC, hosted by the National Science Foundation, the primary funder of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
The gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
The event took place on 14 September 2015 at 5:51 a.m. EDT (09:51 UTC) by both of…