Listen to part of a lecture in an astronomy class.
So how many of you have seen the Milky Way, the Milky Way galaxy in the sky?
You? You have?
Yeah, I was camping, and there was no Moon that night, it was super dark.
Um anybody else? Um...not too many.
Isn't that strange that the Milky Way is the galaxy that the planet Earth is in, and most of us have never seen it?
Now, what's the problem here.
Light pollution, right? From street lights and stuff.
Yes, especially unshielded street lights, you know, ones that aren't pointed downward.
Now, here is an irony, the building we are in now, the astronomy building not far from our observatory has unshielded lights.
So the problem is pretty widespread.
It's basically beyond control, as far as expecting to view the night sky anywhere near city, I mean.
Um, I've live around here my whole life, and I 've never seen that Milky Way within city limits, and I probably never will.
There is a price for progress, uh?
But let's think beyond light pollution.
That's only one kind of a technological advance that interfered with the astronomical research.
Can anyone think of another?
No, OK. Let's look at it this way.
We don't only gain information by looking at the stars.
For the past seven years or so, we've also used radio astronomy, which lets us study radio waves from the sky.
How can you observe radio waves, I mean tell anything about the stars from that.
Well, in optical astronomy, using a telescope and observing the stars that way,
we rely on visible light waves. What we are seeing from Earth is actually electromagnetic radiation that's coming from stars, and just one part of it is visible light.
But there are problems with that.
When photons and light waves hit objects in our atmosphere, water droplets oxygen and nitrogen molecules, dust particles and so on, these objects are illuminated, they are lit up, and those things are also being lit by all our street lights, by the Moon, all these ambient light.
And on top of that, when that visible radiation bounces off those molecules, it scatters in all directions.
And well, lights from stars, even nearby in our own galaxy, doesn't stand a chance against that.
Basically, the light bouncing off all these objects close to Earth is brighter than what's coming from the stars.
Now, radio waves are electromagnetic radiation that we can't see.
Nearly all astronomical objects in space emit radio waves, whether nearby stars, objects in far away galaxies, they all give off radio waves.
And unlike visible light waves, these radio waves can get through the various gases and dust in space, and through our own Earth's atmosphere comparatively easily.
Ok, then we might as well give up on optical astronomy and go with radio astronomy.
Well, the thing is, with a radio astronomy, you can't just set up a telescope in your backyard and observe stars.
One problem is that radio waves from these far away objects, even though they can get through, are extremely faint.
So we need to use radio telescopes, specially designed to receive these waves.
And then, well, we can use computers to create pictures based on the information we receive.
That sounds cool, so how do they do that?
Well, it's kind of like the same way a satellite dish receives its signal, if you are familiar with that.
But radio telescopes are sometimes grouped together, is the same effect as having one really big telescope to increase radio wave gathering power.
And they use electronics, quite sophisticated.
Yeah, it's neat how they do it, but for now, why don't we just stick with what we can learn from it.
Em, some very important discoveries have been made by this technology, especially you consider that some objects in space give off radio waves but don't emit any light.
We have trouble discovering those sorts of bodies as much as studying them using just optical telescopes.
Well, if the radio waves are so good at getting through the universe, what's the problem?
Well, answer this, how come people have to turn off their cell phones and all our electronic devices when an air plane is about to take off?
The phones interfere with the radio communication at the airport, right?
Oh, so our radio waves here, on Earth interfere with the waves from space?
Yes, signal from radios, cell phones, TV stations, remote controls, you name it, all these things cause interference.
We don't think about that as often as we think about light pollution.
But all those electrical gadgets pollute the skies, just in a different way.