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June 17, This article was just voted one of the best science blog articles of the past year at 3-Quarks Daily. Thank you for your votes. Well lets find out by trying this puzzle: See if you can figure out what fairly well-known astronomical phenomenon this is a photograph of: This first photograph of the mystery phenomenon is presented with the same angular resolution as the camera on the COBE satellite: Can you guess what it is yet?
Well, when you are ready — lets take a look at it with the resolution of an ordinary camera. This made COBE sensitive only to broad fluctuations of large size. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. That means a single data point, covering the whole 49 square degree view of sky which is many times the size of the moon at 0.
Of course since the image is only one pixel — whatever the brightness is — it can only be one color and one brightness value. Although the first image appears simply black, it is not.
Pure black would be zero 0 out of percent on the brightness scale. Because of the light from our moon and a few stars are mixed in, that single pixel measures brighter than black at about one percent of full brightness: Our whole sky has 41, square degrees. To represent the resolution of the sharpest WMAP camera the image was resized so that the moon is 2.
Adam Block and Tim Puckett This means that even though WMAP could distinguish about 8 pixels worth of Moon microwaves from the background it simply did not have the angular resolution needed to distinguish microwaves from any individual star or galaxy except our own Milky Way galaxy, which surrounds us, and a few neighboring galaxies such as Andromeda which is about 2.
Sensitivity and resolution are related but independent phenomena. It is mostly determined by its sensor and pixel size and its lens focal length. Telephoto lenses give higher angular resolution, as do more pixels. That is not a misprint.
COBE cameras did not have mega-pixels or even kilo-pixels — just two pixels total. While it is an understandable design choice, it appears that ignoring angular resolution leaves a bit of a problem.
One way to find the angular resolution of a camera is to divide Pixel size in microns by Focal length in millimeters.
Then multiply that times This means the moon is about 19 pixels wide in an iPhone4 photo. Perhaps because of our familiarity with spectacular Hubble images and affordable digital cameras with high resolution we take extremely high resolution images of our Universe for granted.
However, for Microwaves, high resolution whole sky images simply do not yet exist. But did you ever wonder how they decide which microwave radiation is background and which is foreground?
First we generally need to get the camera into orbit because the microwaves we want, at about 1 millimeter wavelength, faint to begin with, are mostly absorbed above the clouds.
Atmosphere Transmittance by Microwaves, Credit: Whole sky microwave radiation is easy to discern it is all non-earth based microwave radiation. Foreground microwave radiation is defined as the microwave radiation coming from anything made of normal matter solids, liquids, gas and plasma which includes all the galaxies, stars, gas and dust.
Even microwaves from the most distant galaxy, gas cloud or star are foreground radiation. The biggest contributor of foreground microwave radiation, by far, is our own Milky Way galaxy which you can see as the broad red band in this whole sky map.
Further, in theory you can just put out a microwave camera in orbit and get a map of foreground radiation. No calculations are needed at all, just take sky pictures in the microwave band and map them.
On the other hand — Microwave Background Must be Calculated, Does not Clearly Exist However, by contrast, we do not have anywhere near the same assurance that there is any background microwave radiation because you simply cannot take a picture of it, you have to calculate it.
Those calculations are massively complex and based upon often hidden assumptions. Hubble Ultra Deep Field — est. The only galaxies we have a fairly good idea of how much, where, and what kind of Microwave radiation is emitted is our own Milky Way and to a much smaller degree, our neighbor Andromeda.
Adam Block and Tim Puckett This is precisely because our best cosmic microwave radiation instruments Planck, WMAP and COBE have such poor resolution that we simply cannot really measure microwave radiation from even our closest neighbor galaxies such as Andromeda — without having the radiation from at least thousands if not millions of other stars and galaxies added in.
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