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Universe Today has investigated the significance of studying impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, solar physics, comets, planetary atmospheres, planetary geophysics, cosmochemistry, and meteorites, and how these scientific fields contribute to researchers and the public gain greater insight into our place in the universe and finding life beyond Earth. Here, will discuss the field of radio astronomy with Dr. Wael Farah, who is a research scientist at the SETI Institute, about how radio astronomy teaches us about the myriad of celestial objects that populate our universe, along with the benefits and challenges, finding life beyond Earth, and how upcoming students can pursue studying radio astronomy. But what is radio astronomy and why is it so important to study?

“Radio astronomy is a branch of astrophysics dedicated to studying the universe at radio wavelengths, which represent the lowest energy form of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Dr. Farah tells Universe Today. “Originating in the late 1930s, radio astronomy transformed astronomers’ perceptions of the cosmos. Before the serendipitous discovery of radio emissions from the Milky Way, scientists believed that radio emissions from space, attributed to stars and other hot bodies, could only be produced by the “black body” law (or Planck’s law), which accurately predicted that radio emissions should be very weak and undetectable from Earth. However, the discovery of an entirely new emission process, synchrotron radiation, provided an unprecedented lens to view the cosmos through. This opened up a whole new world of discoveries.”

As its name implies, radio astronomy uses radio telescopes to listen to the sounds of the universe, and while radio astronomy is often interpreted as just listening for aliens (which is one branch), most of radio astronomy consists of listening to radio waves from other celestial sources, some of which are millions of light-years from Earth, including gas giant planets, gas clouds, pulsars, the birth and death of stars, galaxy formation and evolution, and the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

The size of radio telescopes range between small, homemade antennas to massive dishes that collect radio waves from space and use computers to boost (also known as “amplify”) the radio signals, followed by using computer programs to translate the signal into easy-to-understand data. Astronomers then use this data to conduct studies on the aforementioned celestial objects, thus increasing our understanding of the universe. But even with all the science being accomplished and the required technology, what are some of the benefits and challenges of study radio astronomy?

“Radio astronomy is an inherently interdisciplinary field, intersecting science, engineering, and computing, which presents both benefits and challenges,” Dr. Farah tells Universe Today. “Speaking of challenges, there’s no shortage of them! Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) poses a significant challenge for radio astronomers. Almost every communication device, from radios and cell phones to satellites and WiFi routers, operates within the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. These devices interfere with radio telescopes and can cause substantial damage to equipment and data. We’re constantly endeavoring to modify our hardware and software to adapt to, or even mitigate, this increasingly detrimental environment.”

Radio astronomy is often described as “observing the invisible universe”, and one example is studying magnetic fields around planets, stars, and even galaxies. This is accomplished through measuring what’s known as synchrotron radiation, which are radio waves created by magnetic fields, and have been identified around black holes, allowing researchers to learn more about the black hole’s behavior and characteristics, including how they digest stars. Within our own solar system, radio astronomy can be used to study the magnetic fields comets, the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, and even our Sun. This is because radio telescopes “see” the universe differently than optical telescopes, or visible light. Other examples include quasars, which look like normal stars but can emit powerful radio bursts that radio astronomers collect to learn more about them, including their formation and evolution. But with all these fascinating celestial objects to study, what are some of the most exciting aspects of radio astronomy that Dr. Farah has studied during his career?

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The Ingenuity Team Downloads the Final Data from the Mars Helicopter. The Mission is Over

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I really can’t believe that the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars took its maiden voyage in April 2021. On the 16th April 2024, engineers at NASA have received the final batch of data from the craft which marks the final task of the team. Ingenuity’s work is not over though as it will remain on the surface collecting data. For the engineers at NASA, they have their sights set on Dragonfly, a new helicopter destined for Titan.

When Ingenuity took off on its maiden voyage it became the first powered craft to achieve flight on an alien world. It has completed 128.8 minutes of flight covering 17 kilometres. It has extra large rotor blades to achieve lift in the thin martian atmosphere and has performed excellently providing guidance and targets for the Perseverance Rover to study close up. 

Ingenuity stood on the surface fo Mars
Ingenuity helicopter

It’s surprising to think that Ingenuity was only ever designed to be a short-lived demonstration mission. Over a period of 30 days, Ingenuity was to perform five experimental test flights and operate over three years. Unfortunately a rather hard landing damaged its rotor blades rendering it unable to fly again. It’s now sat at Airfield Chi in the now named “Valinor Hills” area of Mars. The team gave the region the nickname as a homage to the final residence of the immortals in Lord of the Rings. 

With Ingenuity now unable to fly the team had sent a software update to direct it to continue to collect data even if the Rover is unavailable. This will mean that it will wake each morning, test the (non-flight) systems are operational, take a colour image of the surface and record the temperature. The team believe such long term data could help to inform martian weather studies and help future explorers. This is a long term purpose for Ingenuity and it has the capability to store data for 20 years! If system or battery failure occurs the data will still be securely stored. The only way to retrieve the data though, will be through another autonomous craft or a human visitor of the future.

The success of Ingenuity paved the way for a new era of planetary exploration. Next up is Dragonfly, a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. Costing a total of $3.35 billion across its entire lifecycle it will become the fourth mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The probe will be managed by the Marshall Space Flight Centre but behind them is an international team from many different organisations including but not limited to Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland; Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania; Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales in Paris; the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne, Germany; and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in Tokyo.

Artist’s concept of Dragonfly soaring over the dunes of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Artist’s concept of Dragonfly soaring over the dunes of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Dragonfly is slated to arrive in 2034. It’s mission will be to visit multiple locations, sampling the minerals to search for prebiotic chemical processes. It will also look for chemical signatures that indicate water-based and/or hydrocarbon-based life. Unlike Ingenuity, its rotors are similar size to those you would find on a drone on Earth. The
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5 Reasons You Must Backpack in the Grand Canyon

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By Michael Lanza

The Grand Canyon’s appeal to backpackers may seem elusive. It’s hard, it’s dry, it’s often quite hot with little respite from the blazing sun. But while those aspects of hiking there are rarely out of mind, when I recall backpacking in the canyon, I conjure mental images of waterfalls, creeks, and intimate side canyons sheltering perennial streams that nurture lush oases in the desert. I think of wildflowers carpeting the ground for as far as the eye can see. I recall campsites on beaches by the Colorado River and on promontories overlooking a wide expanse of the canyon.

And, of course, I picture the endless vistas stretching for miles in every direction, where impossibly immense stone towers loom thousands of feet above an unfathomably vertiginous and complex landscape.

After several backpacking trips in the Big Ditch, I find that the more I go there, the more I need to go back again. This place really hooks you (see reason no. 5, below). And my perspective is shaped by more than three decades of backpacking all over the United States, including formerly as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine for 10 years and even longer running this blog. I’ve taken many of the best multi-day hikes out there—some of them multiple times.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 21
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker on the Tonto Trail on the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop.
” data-image-caption=”David Ports backpacking the Tonto Trail on the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy-1024×683.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker on the Tonto Trail on the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop.” class=”wp-image-23908″ srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 1024w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 300w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 1080w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 200w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 670w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/06235057/Gran6-137-Ports-Tonto-Trail-Royal-Arch-Loop-Grand-Canyon-copy.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />David Ports backpacking the Tonto Trail on the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop. Click photo to read about that trip.

See my lists of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips,” “The 10 Best National Park Backpacking Trips,” and “The

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8 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips You Must Do

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By Michael Lanza

This is, in a way, a story about addiction. Or a love affair. Or both. Those metaphors best describe how the Grand Canyon constantly lures me back when I’m thinking about spring and fall hiking and backpacking trips.

It is that rare kind of natural environment that exists on a scale of its own, like Alaska or the Himalaya. There’s something soul-stirring and hypnotic about its infinite vistas, the deceptive immensity of the canyon walls and stone towers, and the way the foreground and background continually expand and shrink as you ascend and descend elevation gradients of a vertical mile or more—all of which validates enduring the wilting heat and trails that sometimes seem better suited to rattlesnakes and scorpions than bipedal primates.

For backpackers seeking adventure, challenge, and incomparable natural beauty, the canyon stands alone.

This story will show you, in words and photos, why one or more of these Big Ditch backpacking trips deserves top priority as you’re planning your next trip. I think you will quickly understand why the Grand Canyon has increasingly become one of my favorite places over more than three decades (and counting) of backpacking, including the 10 years I spent as a longtime field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 19
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker at Ooh-Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”Todd Arndt at Ooh-Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail. Click on the photo to see my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker at Ooh-Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.” class=”wp-image-36039″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1 1200w, https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/06231753/Gran8-003-Todd-Arndt-at-Ooh-Ah-Point-South-Kaibab-Trail-Grand-Canyon..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1 1080w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Todd Arndt at Ooh-Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail. Click on the photo to see my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

And the time to start planning your
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