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July 22, 2011

RadioAstron is the biggest radio telescope in space

RadioAstron, a Russian radio telescope intended to be the biggest radio telescope in space, has started touring the Earth for the first time.

The main scientific goal of the mission is the study of astronomical objects with an angular resolution up to a few millionths of an arcsecond. This is accomplished by use to the satellite in conjunction with ground-based observatories and interferometry techniques.

The RadioAstron project's exceptional sensitivity could allow the connected telescopes to peer into black holes and resolve the event horizon, the point at which nothing -- not even light -- can escape a black hole's immense gravitational grasp.

When tied together, RadioAstron's telescopes have a resolution of 7 microarcseconds. That's thousands of times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, which has a peak resolution between 0.05 and 0.1 arcseconds.

An arcsecond is swath of the sky measuring less than three one-thousandths of a degree.

But Hubble observes the universe in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared light, while the RadioAstron mission will unveil the unseen cosmos emitting radio waves.


Diagram of Spektr-R's orbit and a ground-based telescope, illustrating the concept of interferometry. Credit: Lebedev Physical Isntitute/Astro Space Center

Once RadioAstron's 27 carbon fibre petals open up to form a dish, the telescope will start to collect data, then combine it with observations captured by radio telescopes on Earth.

This technique of combining images from a network of telescopes to form a single image is called interferometry.

The result is expected to have an incredibly high resolution - as if taken by a telescope with a dish as wide as the maximum distance between the antennas - from the Earth to the Moon.

The RadioAstron project could potentially answer the question of whether the galaxy's core actually contains the mouth of a wormhole.The M87 galaxy is the best opportunity for RadioAstron researchers to image the event horizon, which is large enough to swallow the entire solar system. Astronomers estimate M87's central black hole is 6.6 billion times as massive as the sun.

One page background mission summary poster on RadioAstron

RadioAstron's antenna is 10m in diameter


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