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From: Dan Dubrick
To: All
Date: 2003-07-12 23:32:00
Subject: 7\02 ESA - Move over, it's my turn on the telescope!

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ESA Science News

2 July 2003

Move over, it's my turn on the telescope!

Whether you are an amateur or professional astronomer, the vastness
of the Universe can often be overwhelming. So how do you decide on
which way to point your telescope, and on what do you focus?

If you are an amateur astronomer, the question of where to point your
telescope can be difficult enough to decide. However, for
professional astronomers, using ESA's large orbiting space
telescopes, there are even more things to consider. 

The process for selecting what objects to observe goes like this.
Astronomers think of ideas about what would be an interesting target
for the telescope. For example, currently, many scientists are
searching for planets orbiting other stars. They summarise their
proposal and submit it to a Peer Review Board, which is a group of
independent scientists from all over the world who can take an
objective view.

The Board considers the reasons why the astronomers believe the
research is important, and how they plan to go about it. The Board
then makes a decision to award 'time' on a telescope.

Time on a space telescope is fantastically oversubscribed. For every
proposal approved by the Hubble Peer Review Board, for example,
another seven have to be turned down. For XMM-Newton, five proposals
out of six have to be rejected. 

The Board also has to juggle the names on a telescope's 'appointment
card' to make best use of its time, given many factors. For example,
not every object is visible to the telescope at any time of the year.
Spacecraft have to have the solar arrays always pointed to the Sun to
get their energy, and this affects the orientation of the telescope.

Submitting ideas

Would an amateur astronomer who comes up with a good idea for Hubble
to investigate be able to submit a proposal in the same way?
"Actually no," says Guido De Marchi, scientific and technical advisor
in communication at ESTEC, ESA’s European Space Technology Centre in
The Netherlands. He has worked on the ESA Hubble team in Baltimore,
United States. 

"When Hubble was first launched, a small amount of its time was
devoted to amateur astronomers," says De Marchi. "Nowadays, though,
your proposal has to show that you are a professional scientist, by
including a list of your own publications, though astronomy students
are also encouraged to send in their ideas." 

Good news

However, De Marchi does have some encouraging news for enthusiastic
amateur astronomers who want to get hold of data from these powerful
telescopes. "Usually after one year, the data collected by the
telescope become freely available to all astronomers," he says. "The
Astrophysical Virtual Observatory, an international project launched
in 2001, gives scientists instant access to data from ground- and
space-based telescopes via the Internet. You can still make some very
interesting discoveries after the data have become public." 

So next time you go out at night to watch the stars with a group of
friends and you have to share the only telescope, be patient. There
are many astronomers who know how you feel.

Related articles

* XMM-Newton factsheet
* Hubble factsheet

Related links

* Seeing the Universe in X-ray wavelengths
* Seeing the Universe in ultraviolet
* Seeing the Universe in visible wavelengths
* Astrophysical Virtual Observatory site

[NOTE: Images supporting this article are available at ]


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