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First Results From the Allen Telescope Array

There’s no word from ET (yet), but the array has provided some useful data that could help solve one the great mysteries about star formation.

The Allen Telescope Array, located a few hundred miles north of San Francisco, is one of the world’s most unusual and innovative radio telescopes. The facility began operating in 2007 with an array of 42 dishes. When completed, it will consist of 350 dishes, each six meters in diameter. This design provides the array with a huge angle of view of 2.5 degrees, some 17 times larger than its nearest rival. It is also able to monitor simultaneously an unprecedented range of radio frequencies from 0.5 to 11.2 gigahertz.

The facility is a joint operation between the SETI Institute in Mountain View and the University of California, Berkeley, which determines where to point the array. Its large angle of view means that wherever the array is pointed, several stars of interest to the SETI Institute can be studied.

Today, the team posted an interesting update of its first results and progress towards its various scientific goals.

The highlight is images of the movement of atomic hydrogen clouds in the intergalactic space between nearby galaxies, which could help solve one of the big mysteries of star formation.

Many galaxies do not appear to contain enough gas to sustain star formation in the way astronomers expect. That’s a puzzle, but atomic hydrogen may be the solution. Astronomers do not include levels of atomic hydrogen gas in their calculations, because the gas is found largely in intergalactic regions where star formation does not take place.

The Allen array team is looking for evidence that atomic hydrogen clouds are drawn into star-forming regions of galaxies where they contribute to stellar formation.

That’s interesting stuff and it may yield fascinating results in the near future.

But no word yet on any broadcasts from ET.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0908.1175: The Allen Telescope Array: The First Widefield, Panchromatic, Snapshot Radio Camera

Deep Dive

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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