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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy


By Phil Plait

Photographers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic create lovely time-lapse animations (I’ve written about them a few times in the past). Their latest, “Dishdance,” shows radio telescope dishes from various observatories doing what they do best: collecting the faint whispers of radio energy from distant objects in the sky.

They made “Dishdance” as part of SkyGlowProject, an effort to increase awareness about the impact of light pollution on the night sky. They’re funding this project, too, in an extended Kickstarter. Among many other things they have books and videos as rewards, too.

Watching the video, I was reminded about how frenetic radio telescopes are. I’ve visited a few, and they generally work 24 hours a day (to them, looking at radio wavelengths, the sky is dark all day long) and don’t spend very long on any particular object. As you can see in the video, they’ll spend a few minutes on one target, then swing away, then swing back again.

That’s funny to me; with the exception of sky surveys (which tend to spend only a few minutes exposing on any given part of the sky), most observations using visible light telescopes take hours, sometimes all night, and even multiple nights. So watching the radio ‘scopes whipping about (I know, accelerated by the time lapse, but still) is odd to me. I’m sure, to my radio astronomy friends, watching time-lapse animations of optical telescopes must seem stately and glacial. 

Either way, the video is mesmerizing and reminds me that there is more than one way to watch the sky, and certainly more than one way to try to understand it.

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