|New telescopes are going to tremendously enhance our ability to study the Universe
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Telescopes on the ground have also reached impressive advancements, with some of them being able to make images sharper than the Hubble telescope. In order to make all these achievements, modern astronomy is pushing the limits of state of the art technology. The yields for society are far more than just astronomical discoveries. This technology finds its way soon to commercial applications. For example, an astronomical X-ray detector does not care if an X-ray photon comes from a distant star or an X-ray machine for your medical examination. It is not surprising, then, that the technological advancement of a country can be also measured by its support of astronomy.
the space telescopes expected to be in space within a year is the Space Infrared
Telescope Facility (SIRTF, sirtf.caltech.edu). Astronomers hope
that it will bring yet another astronomical breakthrough. We talked about
SIRTF and these expectations with Dr. Neal J.
Evans II from the University
of Texas at Austin, a professor at the Department of Astronomy and one
of the well-known names in the astronomical community.
He is also leading one of the teams that will obtain important
early large-scale observations with SIRTF.
"Our project is to look at nearby regions where stars are forming. These are always hidden in clouds of dust, so the ability to see what is going on with visible light is very small. We use the infrared sensitivity of SIRTF to probe deep into these regions of star formation and study the process from its very beginnings in a very cold cloud of dust and molecules, through the point where a central star begins to form, surrounded by a rotating disk. In this disk, we believe, is the place where planets will form. We do not have direct evidence of that, but if we study the disk and we look at how that disk changes as we look at older and older objects, we will be able to have some constraints on the capabilities for planet formation. So, one of the strong aspects of our program is to trace this evolution of the disks through the stage in which the
stars are getting older and older. They are still young stars by most standards, but we will study, as age goes on, what happens to these different disks and how quickly does the disk material disappear. The presumption will be that the disk material is going into the planets. We will not be able to prove that, but we will be having a constraint on how long you have in order to make planets, and this will be important information for people who study theoretically how planets form out of these disks. We can also study the nature of the material in the disks using some spectroscopy. By doing that we learn something about the nature of the dust grains, are they surrounded by coatings of ice, is the material amorphous or is it crystalline, and things like that. We will be able to see how that changes as time goes on as well."
What is your opinion about the current status of astronomy in general
and what can be expected in the future.
Prepared by Dejan Vinkovic & Helen Klarich, - © Copyright znanost.org, 2002