Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

BCMs #15 – The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex

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The 70 meter deep space station antenna named 'Mars', a.k.a. DSS-14

Good morning everyone.

Today I thought that we’d take a quick look at the network of instruments that send and receive data to our spacecraft, satellites, and space probes, including the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover. In particular, we’ll look at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex and the radio antennas (antennae are found on critters, FYI) located there.

Goldstone is one of three facilities of the NASA Deep Space Network that are spaced approximately 120o around the world to allow constant communications with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. There is the Goldstone complex, also called the Goldstone Observatory, in the Mojave Desert in California; the Spanish Complex near Madrid; and the Australian Complex near Canberra.

From the NASA/JPL website:

“Each complex consists of at least four deep space stations equipped with ultrasensitive receiving systems and large parabolic dish antennas. There are:

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Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

Big, Complicated machines #12 – The Green Bank Telescope

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The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going to take a quick look at radio telescopes in general and the Green Bank Telescope in particular.

A radio telescope is a type of steerable radio antenna that is used in astronomy for studying celestial radio sources. The same types of antennas are also used for tracking and communicating with satellites and spaces probes. When used as telescopes for astronomy, they collect electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequency spectrum, from ~3kHz to 300Ghz, as opposed to optical telescopes which collect visible light. They are used for the study of many celestial objects that optical telescopes either cannot or have difficulty in observing, such as the objects in the center of our galaxy. Radio telescopes are typically very large parabolic, or dish antennas, and are used singly or in arrays. The diameter of the antenna dish is called the aperture of the telescope, and just like optical telescopes, a larger aperture means that a telescope can detect and study fainter objects. Radio telescopes that are thousands of miles apart can be linked together in a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry which gives the resolution of a single telescope that is thousands of miles in diameter. Radio telescopes are the giant constructs of astronomy, the largest being the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico at 1,000 feet in diameter.

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