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Friday, July 29, 2011

New ultra-powerful Russian space telescope goes into orbit

A new ultra-powerful Russian space telescope has been launched into orbit by a rocket that blasted off from Kazakhstan on the 18th of July.

The 3.8 tonne RadioAstron uses a 10 metre antenna to send back high-resolution images to a series of ground-based stations.

Russian scientists say the pictures are of much better quality than those of the Hubble space telescope. Nikolai Kardashev is the head of the Astro-Space Center at the Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Hubble allows us to see very remote objects, but the angle resolution and details are not very high. Now we’ll be able to receive images a hundred times better in quality than those from Hubble”

It will study sources of radio waves from stellar phenomena such as pulsars, quasars, black holes and neutron stars.

A 10 metre antenna is smaller than many earth-based telescope aerials, but when its signals are combined with those on the ground, the result is effectively the biggest radio telescope in space.

RadioAstron has been decades in the making but the project was perpetually postponed and had been shelved at the end of the Soviet era in 1991. Scientists now hope it will help to unlock more secrets of the universe. (more)