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Telescope arrays give fine view of stars
- Optical interferometry is no longer on the fringe of astronomy.
Nature 464, 820-821 (2010) | doi: 10.1038/464820a | 7 April 2010
Eric Hand wrote:Overlooking Los Angeles, six small domes nestle amid the pine trees atop Mount Wilson. Individually, the 1-metre telescopes inside those buildings have no chance of competing with the biggest ground and space telescopes. But collectively, the Mount Wilson telescopes are producing some of the sharpest images ever made.
Spread in a Y-shaped array across the top of the mountain, the telescopes are part of the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA). The light from each one is funnelled through vacuum tubes to a central shed, where it is combined in a process called interferometry. Merging the light beams from the widely separated domes gives CHARA a resolving power, or sharpness, equivalent to a single telescope with a 330-metre mirror. That's more than 50 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope's resolution, allowing CHARA to see details on the surfaces of stars where other telescopes just see blurry blobs of light.
Radio astronomers have relied on interferometry for more than half a century, but optical astronomers have lagged behind. Now, optical interferometry has come of age. Several observatories are producing strong scientific results