Russia Launches New Space Telescope

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RadioAstron. Image: Astro Space Center, Russian Academy of Science

This past Monday saw the launch of the Russian Space Telescope after decades of delay. Conceived during the days of the Cold War, the RadioAstron mission will deploy a radio telescope with a diameter of 10 meters in a very eccentric orbit that will take it nearly as far as the moon. By linking up with radio telescopes on the ground using interferometry, the array will result in a "dish" nearly 30 times the diameter of the Earth. Facilities participating in this array include two 100-meter dishes in Green Bank, West Virginia and Effelsberg, Germany, and the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.

The estimated resolution of this new system is estimated to be 7 microarcseconds, which makes it's resolution 10,000 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. One of the more highly anticipated targets of RadioAstron is a massive black hole at the core of galaxy M87, which emits relativistic particles. Scientists hope that they will be able to image the space at or near the black hole's event horizon.  Other planned observations involve water masers, which are clouds of water molecules that emit microwave radiation.

One of the challenges that could still cause problems is the massive amounts of data that the telescope will collect. At 144 megabits per second there is too much to store on the spacecraft, so it will need to be beamed to earth as it comes in. To date, the Russian Space Agency has built only one ground-based dish to receive data from RadioAstron. Plans are underway to construct more receiving stations so that data coming in will not be lost.

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