Students helping shape our astronomical future – Skywatching

Students helping shape our astronomical future – Skywatching
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Every Friday we hold a Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) science meeting.

At the moment this is mainly done with Zoom. After the usual organizational stuff that all staff meetings start, the rest of the time is devoted to project and science reports, where people report on what they are doing and what interesting new scientific findings they have made.

Much of this part of the meeting covers reports by students working at DRAO. Some of them are cooperative students, where working hours at the observatory are part of their degree studies. Others are graduate students working on their doctorates. Finally, there are some postdoctoral students. These are people who have recently earned their doctorates and are at the starting point in their careers as scientists.

They are all at DRAO because their career plans involve not only pure research, but also gaining experience working with radio telescopes and the data they produce and the design and operation of the instruments we attach to those telescopes when we make observations. make.

These are the people who will define the future course of Canadian astronomy, and will play a key role in implementing the new instrumentation needed to work at the astronomical frontiers.

Most astronomers are “pure” scientists. They do not have a close relationship with instrumentation. Questions that arise during their work lead to the need for new observations. To address this, they look at observation facilities around the world to determine which of them has the instrument to address these questions.

Nowadays, this is usually done by referring to the observatory websites. They then apply for observation time, and if the applications are approved, the observations are executed.

It used to be that the astronomer had to be at the observatory to oversee the observations, but since the operation of modern telescopes is now done exclusively by trained personnel on site, the researcher usually stays at home and receives the data over the internet.

The astronomical community as a whole decides on the “big questions” we need to look at over decades to come. But it requires scientists who understand telescopes and instrumentation to turn those questions into equipment that can be used to address them.

This is where those students come in. They, and their peers, will make sure Canada stays at the forefront of instrument design. Without them, we would be mere passengers on the astronaut ship. Together with them we help to design and build the ship and help us determine the course.

There’s another angle. Modern astronomy works at the forefront of technology, digital signal processing and imaging. This includes antenna design and development of high-sensitivity receivers, software and computer equipment. Many of these are applicable outside of astronomy, for example in communications, medical and other imaging, environmental observation and consumer electronics. Much of the equipment is built by the industry, which imparts knowledge that can be used to develop new products and devices.

Today, most astronomical facilities are at the forefront of international collaborations. Canada is a partner in several of them, contributing technology and operational support.

DRAO is a purely national facility, which means we decide what it does and in what way it will develop. It also gives us flexibility on how we can address the training of future technically literate astronomers and astronomically literate engineers.

A big plus is that the techniques and devices developed by the students and “post-doctors” are often tested and deployed at DRAO. It helps the observatory to remain relevant in an era where scientific discovery is moving faster than at any time in our history.


• Mercury hides low in the dawn glow, with Venus higher and brighter. To the right of Venus lies Mars and Jupiter, close to each other, then Saturn.

• The Moon will be full on June 14, and the last quarter visible on June 20.

This article was written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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