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05/10/2016: Virtual Earth-space telescope sheds new light on Milky Way

2016-05-10 | Karen O'Neil
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GBT-cloudyAstronomers have created a virtual Earth-space radio telescope more than 100,000 miles across – a super-high resolution that reveals new details of a quasar and our Milky Way. The researchers were surprised when their Earth-space system revealed a temperature hotter then 10 trillion degrees. “Only this space-Earth system could reveal this temperature, and now we have to figure out how that environment can reach such temperatures,” said RadioAstron scientist Yuri Kovalev. “This result is a significant challenge to our current understanding of quasar jets,” he added.

Using an orbiting radio telescope in conjunction with four ground-based radio telescopes, the team achieved the highest resolution of any astronomical observation ever made. The feat produced a pair of surprises that promise to advance the understanding of quasars, supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. The scientists combined the Russian Radio- Astron satellite with the ground-based telescopes to produce a virtual radio telescope. They pointed this system at a quasar called 3C 273, more than two billion light-years from Earth. Quasars like 3C 273 propel huge jets of material outward at speeds nearly that of light. These powerful jets emit radio waves.

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