It's been a big week for astronomy, with important new data revealing the scale of both stars and planets.
Science Daily reports on how the continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) - an international network of radio astronomy facilities - is redrawing the map of our home galaxy and is poised to yield tantalizing new information about extrasolar planets. Their work also has important implications for numerous areas of astrophysics, including determining the nature of dark energy, which constitutes 70 percent of the Universe.
"Solving the Dark Energy problem requires advancing the precision of cosmic distance measurements, and we are working to refine our observations and extend our methods to more galaxies," said James Braatz, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).
The project uses the VLBA along with NRAO's Green Bank radio astronomy telescope in West Virginia, the largest fully-steerable dish antenna in the world. The VLBA, dedicated in 1993, uses ten, 25-meter-diameter dish antennas distributed from Hawaii to St. Croix in the Caribbean. All ten antennas work together as a single telescope with the greatest resolving power available to astronomy. Together, these telescopes can detect the faint radio emission from the stars to track their motion over time. This unique capability has produced landmark contributions to numerous scientific fields, ranging from Earth tectonics, climate research, and spacecraft navigation to cosmology.