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Nik Cronin

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Would a large network of small telescopes equal one large telescope?

The proposal.... Form a network of hundreds of amateur astronomers around the world focusing on the same objects at the same time using CCD's and automatic tracking mounts . Locate each telescope precisely with a carrier-wave GPS hack and network the whole lot through some glorious alloy of SeaDragon and PhotoSynth to produce one huge, stable, composite image.

The question.... Have I totally misunderstood the physics of magnification?

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    Nov 8 2013: Optical resolution is limited by "seeing" which is distortion of the image due to atmospheric effects. Observatories have complex computer controlled systems to clear the view. Without these an optical telescope any bigger than about a metre across the mirror is pointless as its theoretical resolution excedes the resolution possible through the atmosphere. That's why they build observatories on mountain tops. Less air to see through. It's also why Hubble is so good. No air to see through.
    • Nov 8 2013: Understood Peter, but isn't the processor here doing the same job as the lasers and adaptive optics that the big scopes use? Providing a fixed point so you know how to adjust your image. Plus this network would be strong in places like the Canaries, Chile etc giving stable images.
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        Nov 10 2013: The problem is you can't compensate for the atmospheric effect as it will be different for each individual telescope. It's a bit like looking through a dirty window. You could use a computer to attempt to compensate but every window has different dirt. Combining two images just combines two sets of problems. One good image is easier to produce.
        • Nov 11 2013: I agree. at these sensitivities even a minute gust of wind or temp fluctuations and even gravity humidity ect would be impossible to account for the 'noise' for even one telescope through our atmosphere at these distances. I wonder if computing facts from say 4 Hubble telescopes could allow us to see further! though it is my understanding that the problem is not distance, but breadth. we can only scan tiny pinpoints in the sky at any one time
        • Nov 11 2013: Well perhaps we can copy the big boys and put up a laser. One spot (a few spots?), near the target, that everyone can pick up. Perhaps we can encode time information in the beam to give another level of accuracy.
          As I understand it the pro's use the laser to change the shape of the mirror itself rather than the image but surely the physics would translate?
          Distributed systems are standard in radio astronomy and surely Gamma rays etc. are even higher wavelengths than light?
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        Nov 11 2013: Large networks of radio telescopes are possible because the long wavelengths used aren't affected by the atmosphere. Gamma ray observations are generally done in space as they interact heavily with the atmosphere.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_Gamma-ray_Space_Telescope
        • Nov 12 2013: Hmm, see what you're saying re the Gamma rays Peter, what say you to the laser idea? We know it works for a single scope, sure the processing would be fearsome but we run a distributed computer network to handle it, a la SETI.

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