New array of telescopes could help search for E.T.

Consisting of 13,000 individual antennas, the new Long Wavelength Array will scan the skies for black holes, dying stars, and even possible signals from alien civilizations.

Multiple antennas of the LWA-1 station of the Long Wavelength Array in central New Mexico.
Multiple antennas of the LWA-1 station of the Long Wavelength Array in central New Mexico. NASA

A new telescope array could bring us closer to better understanding the universe and perhaps even answer an age-old question: are we alone?

Tapping into the combined power of 13,000 individual antennas, the new Long Wavelength Array will be able to scan our corner of the galaxy using a wide and rarely explored range of frequencies, according to NASA. That power will give it the ability to find new worlds beyond our solar system by scanning for their radio waves.

Led by the University of New Mexico and joined by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which is supplying the digital electronic systems, the project will start off small this summer by powering up 256 antennas in central New Mexico. Once it's completed, though, the Long Wavelength Array will contain 53 stations with the 13,000 antennas taking up a space 248 miles in diameter.

Beyond looking for distant worlds, the telescope array will be able to detect other events among the stars, those that occur naturally and possibly some that don't.

"We'll be looking for the occasional celestial flash," Joseph Lazio, a radio astronomer at JPL, said in a statement. "These flashes can be anything from explosions on surfaces of nearby stars, deaths of distant stars, exploding black holes, or even perhaps transmissions by other civilizations."

The Long Wavelength Array will use a radio frequency of 20 to 80 megahertz, says NASA, which corresponds to wavelengths of 49.2 feet to 12.5 feet. That's significant because these frequencies point to one of the last and least explored regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. On Earth, scientists will be able to examine high-resolution, detailed images of regions in space that are hundreds of times larger than the full moon.

Radio astronomy and the project itself are the beneficiaries of lower costs and advances in technology, such as enhanced image processing, according to NASA. As a result, researchers are now able to grab a much better glimpse of the galaxy and learn more about the universe in which we live.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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