You are here

Small But Big

March 29, 2018

To see objects that are ever fainter and farther away, astronomers are building bigger telescopes. To see interesting objects that are bright or close by, though, small can work just fine.

Last year, for example, European astronomers completed a second station designed to hunt for planets orbiting bright, nearby stars. The two stations are known as MASCARA. Each one consists of five commercially available digital cameras, each with its own 24-millimeter lens. One is in the Canary Islands, and the other is in Chile.

MASCARA is looking for small dips in the brightness of its target stars. Such a dip can be caused by a planet passing in front of the star, blocking some of its light. In particular, MASCARA is looking for big planets that are in tight orbits, which produce the biggest dip in a star’s light.

Another project in the Canary Islands will look for events that produce the ripples in space and time known as gravitational waves.

GOTO will scan the sky with a set of 16-inch telescopes — four now, with four more to be added this year. When a new source of gravitational waves is discovered, GOTO will be notified of its general location. GOTO then will look to see if anything unusual shows up at visible wavelengths. Studying these events at different wavelengths helps astronomers pin down just what happened.

These small instruments will help scientists study some of the most interesting objects and events in the universe.


Script by Damond Benningfield

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.