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Brain Food: Interferometer Upgrade to Sharpen View of Distant Stars


The array of telescopes on Anderson Mesa south of Flagstaff will soon be able to detect surface features of distant stars in more detail than any other telescope in the world. Astronomer Gerard van Belle is the director the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer.

“So, we’re going from a 5-inch telescope to 40-inch telescopes that we can use to put light into the array and then the array itself is where we join all that light together and synthesize the larger telescope,” he says.

Van Belle says the telescopes will work together as a large field to create high-resolution images of distant objects.

“You can measure more stellar sizes, you can measure more surface features. You also tend to pick up entirely new topics in science. So for example, one of the things that we hope to do is get to the point where we can look at baby stars, stars that are just being formed. And, one of the things that’s interesting about looking at those kind of objects is looking to see if they have structures around them that indicate that they might be forming planets,” he says.

Van Belle says the interferometer upgrade will make the view into the universe at least 10 times sharper than what astronomers can currently see, and he hopes, lead to the discovery of Earth-like planets.

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