Monster telescope ATLAST planned for space

An exciting new space telescope is on the drawing board that will dwarf anything previous observatory put into space – and it will be powerful enough to image planets orbiting nearby stars.

ATLAST telescope
An artist’s concept of how ATLAST may look as astronauts assemble it in space. Image credit: NASA/STScI.

The project, called the new Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST) will have a light-collecting main mirror between 16 and 20 metres in diameter. Compare that to Hubble’s 2.5 metres.

It is so big that it is likely to have to be assembled in space, and is unlikely to start operating until 2030. Calls to support its construction were made by RAS President Professor Martin Barstow at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) in Portsmouth, UK, last month.

You can read my full report on this amazing project, including an interview I had with Professor Barstow, on the space news website Sen.

Another interesting story from NAM was the news that scientists believe they have
discovered why it rains on the Sun. This rain is formed of hot plasma rather than water, but it turns out the basic cause is similar to what drives rain in our weather back on Earth.

I chatted to Dr Eamon Scullion, of Trinity College Dublin, who led the team of researchers probing the puzzle using images taken by the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) on La Palma in the Canary Islands along with data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in space. Again, see my full report at Sen here.

Another item of space news from NAM was how an international team of astronomers has produced a detailed three-dimensional map of the dust that lies in our Galaxy.

They did it by measuring the light from more than 38 million Sun-like stars in the Milky Way to see how much they are dimmed by dust lying between us and them.

The research was led by Professor Janet Drew, of the UK’s University of Hertfordshire, assisted by colleague Dr Geert Barentsen, using data from a survey using the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma. Read all about it in my full account for Sen.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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