A Very Large Antenna! Part of the DSN
The Deep Space Network - or DSN - is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports Earth-orbiting missions. The picture shows one of the huge antennae at the Goldstone, California facility.

The Deep Space Network

The DSN currently consists of three deep-space communications facilities placed approximately 120 degrees apart around the world: at Goldstone, in California's Mojave Desert; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. This strategic placement permits constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates, and helps to make the DSN the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world. NASA's scientific investigation of the Solar System is being accomplished mainly through the use of unmanned automated spacecraft. The DSN provides the vital two-way communications link that guides and controls these planetary explorers, and brings back the images and new scientific information they collect. All DSN antennas are steerable, high-gain, parabolic reflector antennas.

The antennas and data delivery systems make it possible to:

Acquire telemetry data from spacecraft.
Transmit commands to spacecraft.
Track spacecraft position and velocity.
Perform very-long-baseline interferometry observations.
Measure variations in radio waves for radio science experiments.
Gather science data.
Monitor and control the performance of the network.

So, when the Rover operator in California sends a command to Opportunity on Mars, it is transmitted through the DSN. When the Space Station crews want to video-chat or do Facebook with friends and family, those internet signals also go through the DSN, (You didn't think it was Comcast did you?).

The combined circumference of all the antenae creates a huge array
Each DSN complex consists of at least four deep space stations equipped with ultrasensitive receiving systems and large parabolic dish antennas arranged in a cluster. There are:

One 34-meter (111-foot) diameter High Efficiency antenna.

One 34-meter Beam Waveguide antenna.
(Three at the Goldstone Complex and two in Madrid)
One 26-meter (85-foot) antenna.
One 70-meter (230-foot) antenna.

Look through the
DSN website, as it has some great information on how the arrays are built, and how they are used. It also contains information for Educators and kids!!


Arecibo Radio Observatory

Arecibo, in Costa Rica hosts the largest radio telescope in the world. I like the Engadget site (click Arecibo link above) in that, other than the search for extra-terrestrial radio from space, the site is a main warning area for Near Earth Objects that have a chance of catastrophic damage, should they pay us a visit.

As you probably know by now, signals flow in frequencies, ranging from microwave to gamma rays. At some frequencies, we hear noise -- that's how audio systems work. At other frequencies, we see light -- this is why we see lightning before we hear it. Thunder and lightning are the same thing. The light frequency is a narrower wave so it travels faster than the wider sound frequency. So to do real Astronomy, we need telescopes that pick up signals in each major frequency, sound, light, xray, gamma-ray, ultra-violet and infra-red. This is their main site -- needs work!!


Hawaii is Earth's connecting point to the rest of the Universe. The summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii hosts the world's largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The combined light-gathering power of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is fifteen times greater than that of the Palomar telescope in California -- for many years the world's largest -- and sixty times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. (note the word combined).

There are currently thirteen working telescopes near the summit of Mauna Kea. Nine of them are for optical and infrared astronomy, three of them are for submillimeter wavelength astronomy and one is for radio astronomy. They include the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world (the Keck telescopes), the largestdedicated infrared telescope (UKIRT) and the largest submillimeter telescope in the world (the JCMT). The westernmost antenna of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is situated at a lower altitude two miles from the summit.

But the best way to see what's happening at Mauna Kea is to see their site.
Scroll your mouse or trackpad on the telescope images in the picture to see their names and functions.



It turns out that the high Andean mountains in Chile offer one of the best places on our planet to build observatories. They are high above pollution and away from any major city -- therefore light pollution as well. So there are a number of observatories here, including the Gemini Observatory which is operated by a public/private consortium from the US, UK, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Also there is the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (Soar) Telescope, operated by the University of Michagan, and the governments of Chile and Brazil. Nice to know people can get along.

European Southern Observatories (ESO)

ESO Logo
But the largest presence in the neighborhood is the European Southern Observatories (ESO). Created in 1962, ESO provides research facilities to European astronomers and astrophysicists and is supported by Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Their Headquarters are located in Garching near Munich, Germany.

La Silla ESO Arrays

ESO operates, in addition to the Santiago Centre, three observational sites in the Chilean Atacama desert. At La Silla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile and at 2400 m altitude, ESO operates several medium-sized optical telescopes.

Paranal - Home of The

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located on Paranal, a 2600 m high mountain south of Antofagasta, which also hosts the VLT Interferometer and two survey telescopes, the VST and VISTA.

The Apex Telescope

The third site is the 5000 m high Llano de Chajnantor, near San Pedro de Atacama. Here a new submillimetre telescope (APEX) is in operation, and a giant array of 12 m submillimetre antennas (ALMA) is being constructed in collaboration with North America, East Asia and Chile.

Soon, the Southern Observatories will be joined by the E-ELT. This huge telescope will be mounted on a central concrete pier that ensures a minimum clearance of 10 m above the ground. It will be shielded from the wind by a dome enclosure. This dome will have an approximate height of 90m and a footprint of about 90m diameter. Note the size of the people on the ground

You should check out the amazing work that the ESO accomplishes. They have
images and videos of a perfectly clear sky.

The Large Synaptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

LSST Mirror - Group Photo

Remember what I said about consumer telescopes. Mine is the average for amateurs and is 10" across.The width of the LSST mirror is 330" across. It takes so long to accurately build a mirror like this, it is being built in cores and then hand-assembled. It is due to be completed in 2012. The photograph shown is of the workers, technicians and scientists having completed half of one mirror.

LSST Camera

Remember that today, a good consumer digital camera has about 10-12 mega-pixels -- the LSST camera will have 3200 mega-pixels. As of today, is the largest digital camera ever made. The technology being used to develop this camera will -- I believe -- be used in future digital consumer products! Although, it might be hard to haul around a 3000 ft digital camera. You'll need a tripod.

LSST installed

When finished, the telescope will look like the picture on above. Here is an animation of the telescope.

I don't know why the figure in the image does not appear to be wearing clothes. It is freezing up there. The LSST website has a great FAQ section, which includes topics like: why are we building this in Chile? And, why are we building this at all? This page, intended for scientists, gives a great answer to that question.

Testing the Mirror - January 2009

At this time, the mirror is being tested and calibrated and the site is being constructed. You can see the timeline for the program below.


LSST is a public-private partnership. Funding for design and development activity comes from the National Science Foundation, private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support at Department of Energy laboratories and other LSSTC Institutional Members.
The LSST team is here!

The Amudsen-Scott Observatory --
PLATO - South Pole


Yep, there is even an observatory/telescope at the South Pole! Officially known as PLATeau Observatory, or PLATO, it is a big telescope in fact, as high as a seven-story building, with a main mirror measuring 32 1/2 feet across is being built at the Amundsen-Scott Station in the Antarctica looming over a barren plain of ice that gets colder than anywhere else on the planet.

The instrument at the far end of the world is being built scientists can search for clues that might identify the most powerful, plentiful but elusive substance in the universe -- dark energy.

Believe it or not, this is only a fraction of the Earth-based observatories. I’ve missed a lot, such as the Palomar, the US Naval Observatory, and the Vatican. This site shows the locations of major Earth-based observatories. Often, the observatories allow visitors for your personal viewing. There are also planetariums and at least dark places close to you where you can observe the sky yourself. Learn as much as you can and teach as much as you can. As I researched these pages, I could not help but marvel at what we are able to create. These observatories are like cathedrals to the heavens. Keep 'em coming.