Feeds

Astronomers wave big thermometer at universe

Tracking forming galaxies

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.