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New Telescope

August 8, 2018

Astronomers know that black holes exist. They’ve detected swirling disks of gas around them, measured their effects on nearby stars, and even “heard” them merging with other black holes. About the only thing they haven’t done is actually see one.

That could change soon, though, as astronomers turn more and more radio telescopes toward a couple of black holes. And one of those telescopes just went to work in Greenland.

The Greenland Telescope is a 12-meter radio dish. It was built as a prototype for a project in Chile. Astronomers refurbished it, then rebuilt it in Greenland. It took its first observations this year.

One of its goals is to help take the first picture of a supermassive black hole. Although these objects are heavy, they’re so far away that they’re tiny targets. Astronomers hope to actually see one by combining the light from radio telescopes around the world. Such an array can see smaller details than any single telescope.

Eventually, the Greenland Telescope may move to a higher site. Currently, it sits near sea level. The air above it holds a lot of water vapor, which blocks some radio wavelengths. Plans call for it to be moved to a spot near the center of Greenland, at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet. At that height, there’s much less water vapor to contend with, so the telescope will be able to see the universe much more clearly — maybe even a black hole.

We’ll talk about more astronomy on ice tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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