Feeds

Astronomers wave big thermometer at universe

Tracking forming galaxies

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The world's largest thermometer has just entered active service. This isn't a cue for all sorts of "ooh, Matron" remarks, since the thermometer in question is taking the temperature of billion-year-old clouds of gas, way "out there" in the universe.

the Galactic HII region RCW 120 in the visible and in the submillimetre

And although it is essentially a big thermometer, it should technically be referred to as a Bolometer. And the aim is to use the new camera to find out more about the formation of the very first stars and galaxies.

"A large fraction of all the gas in the Universe has extremely cold temperatures of around minus 250 degrees Celsius, a mere 20 degrees above absolute zero," says Karl Menten, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR) in Germany. "Studying these cold clouds requires looking at the light they radiate in the submillimetre range, with very sophisticated detectors."

Broadly, a bolometer works by detecting tiny changes in temperature caused by radiation hitting a foil sheet. To be sensitive to the tiny changes it is looking for, the camera needs to be kept extremely cold: less than 0.3 degrees above absolute zero.

That kind of temperature takes liquid helium, a tricky enough substance to work with at sea level, let alone at the 5,100m altitude of the 12m APEX telescope that houses the camera.

But if the telescope were not high on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, in the dry clean air, the signal detection would be all but impossible because the signals the researchers are looking for are readily absorbed by water vapour. One of the researchers describes it as "trying to see stars during the day".

The European Southern Observatory, which runs the site, has details of the specification: A bolometer camera combines many tiny bolometer units into a matrix, much like the pixels are combined in a digital camera. LABOCA observes at the submillimetric wavelength of 0.87 mm, and consists of 295 channels, which are arranged in 9 concentric hexagons around a central channel. The angular resolution is 18.6 arcsec, and the total field of view is 11.4 arcmin, a remarkable size for instruments of this kind.

The team is pleased with the performance of the kit so far, saying that the first observations have revealed the camera's great potential. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
'Yes, yes... YES!' Philae lands on COMET 67P
Plucky probot aces landing on high-speed space rock - emotional scenes in Darmstadt
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
THERE it is! Philae comet lander FOUND in EXISTING Rosetta PICS
Crumb? Pixel? ALIEN? Better, it's a comet-catcher!
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.