My Favorite Things, Vol. 1.3 – Trek/There’s More

Star Trek

It’s amazing what this 60s TV show did. It lit up the imagination of the public and inspired the generations since to pursue science and engineering. NASA recently presented an award to William Shatner. He narrated this short Space Shuttle history video.

 

Electromagnetic Spectrum Blindness

Sometimes there’s more than “What you see is what you get.”

For the past 400 years we’ve had great improvements in telescopes. Just a look at a few images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope will convince anybody that’s true. And with that you might not even think to ask: “Is there’s more?”

Imagine being colorblind and able to see only green. You’d be able to read this blog (unless someone was really mean and set your computer to display any color but green), drive a car, and do any number of other things, but still…. Then if you gained full vision, you couldn’t help but see all the things you couldn’t perceive before.

Until the advent of electronics in recent decades, we were in a manner of speaking electromagnetic (EM) spectrum blind — we could see what’s in the sky through only a tiny part of the EM spectrum. Notice in the diagram below how narrow the range of visible light is compared to the entire spectrum and how much the atmosphere blocks.

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[source: Wikipedia]

We’ve had radio telescopes for decades and in just the last 10 to 20 years we’ve started to get good images in the infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray. In other words we can “see” just about everything else now. Now try to imagine the excitement astronomers experienced as they were first able to observe in each of these new EM regions.

Different EM regions give different clues. Like any good detective (Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, anyone?), astronomers are putting these different clues together.

One nice example of this is shown in a recent S&T article about a specific supernova. The first frame shows radio, then infrared, then visible, then X-ray, and finally all four. (Obviously, except for visible, the images are shown in a false color since we can’t directly see them.) Each shows the same region of space but different aspects of the supernova. Read the article for details.

This type of multispectral imaging has become more prevalent over the past several years, and this trend will only continue to grow.

So what happens now that we’ve been cured of EMSB? (What an acronym!) Does this mean there are no other means to observe the universe? I’ll let you think about it until next month. You’ll see!

Till next time, Clear Skies!

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