The whole world, and the telescope: how scientists from Russia have transformed the space in Observatory

© Photo : NASA, and M. Weiss (Chandra X-ray Center)Quasar wind around the black holeThe whole world, and the telescope: how scientists from Russia have transformed the space in Observatory© Photo : NASA, and M. Weiss (Chandra X-ray Center)

Yuri Kovalev, the scientific coordinator of the project «RadioAstron», head of the laboratory at the Lebedev physical Institute and MIPT, and his colleague Dmitry Litvinov from the Moscow state University named after M. V. Lomonosov spoke about how the Russian space Observatory «Spektr-R» helps to test the theory of relativity, and change our ideas about the Universe, and also shared the secrets of how they managed to turn a cloud of gas in space in a giant telescope.

The most successful space science Observatory, Russia today can be called a radio telescope «Spektr-R» was launched into space in July 2011. It is a key part of a unique ground-space interferometer «RadioAstron», which includes work in addition to the Russian satellite, while dozens of ground radio telescopes in Russia and in other countries of Europe, Asia, USA, South Africa, Australia and Japan.

At the moment, «RadioAstron» remains the only space-ground system operating on the principle of radiointerferometry with very long bases (VLBI), the pioneer of which is academician Nikolai Kardashev, head of the «Radioastron», the Director of the Astro space center of LPI and one of the founders of radio astronomy.

Speaking about this technique of observation in its most General form, we can say that it allows you to combine radio telescopes, spaced at large distances, one giant virtual antenna, whose size is comparable with the distance that removed components. To «assemble» this antenna you need three things — synchronization of telescopes with a precision of an atomic clock, a powerful supercomputer, able to combine the signals, and knowing the exact distances between parts of the antenna.

This method of supervision allowed «Radioastron» to make the unusual «non-scientific» achievement — get into the Guinness Book of records as the largest space radio telescope created by man.

The list of purely scientific achievements of the «Radioastron» includes much more, including a number of discoveries that could soon completely change scientists ‘ ideas about how arise and live galaxy and how they work are the most hectic and «large» their inhabitants — supermassive black holes.

The fact that even in 2013, Yuri Kovalev and his colleagues began to notice an unusual anomaly during the first observations of so-called jets, emission of distant black holes, which are accelerated up to near-light speeds. Scientists have discovered that they are heated to a temperature of more than 10 trillion degrees Kelvin, which exceeds the theoretical limit by about 100 times.

If so, then at the base of the jet should present many such points of «break lines», which are now Kovalev and his colleagues are trying to find, by observing quasars with the most powerful combinations of antennas «Radioastron». If they will be able to find traces of these outbreaks in polarized light, the mystery of super-bright jets of black holes is solved.

Otherwise, the researcher says, if all the radiation jets generated by one source, theoretical physicists have to invent a mechanism to accelerate particles to such high energies and velocities, which is indicated by the data of observations «Radioastron».

«One of the common theories today, in the birth of the jets and the acceleration of matter involved a powerful magnetic field. In principle, this fact is confirmed by the observations of the polarization jet in the VLA and ALMA telescopes, and our own data. Now we assume that open us the anomalies in the temperature of the emissions can be explained by the fact that the radiation jets generate not only electrons but also protons are accelerated to near-light speeds,» says Kovalev.

Now Russian scientists and their foreign counterparts, according to astrophysics, is actively trying to find the answer to this question by measuring the strength of magnetic fields and trying to see the structure of the «legs» of the jet. These observations, as noted by the researcher, scientific group of the project not only on the «Radioastron» and land «fellow», the Event Horizon Telescope interferometer, and microwave the ALMA Observatory.

«The main hope for obtaining a positive or negative response data with ALMA on the strength of the magnetic field in the vicinity of supermassive black holes. Their presence or absence will show whether the protons to be accelerated to the required energies and velocities. If we will find them, then theorists will have to seriously think about how to explain such a powerful acceleration,» adds the scientist.

Universal microscope

Even before sending the Observatory «RadioAstron» in the space of Nikolai Semenovich Kardashev conceived even more audacious project — to use interstellar interferometer. One of its parts — a cloud of interstellar plasma refraction and scattering of radio waves from the source, which then interfere at the point of reception.

«Paradoxically, on the results of observations «Radioastron» was that for the realization of this interstellar interferometer, it is sufficient even a single large ground-based telescope. Our colleagues from Canada and the group of Michael Popov of FIAN to use the system, and analysis conducted on the data from our observational programme. They were able to measure the distance between the regions, whence emanate the beams of radio waves emitted by the pulsar in pulses and contemporised. This radiation comes from the opposite magnetic poles of the neutron star,» says Kovalev.

As the astrophysicist, scientists have long argued about where it originated pulses of radio emission that produce a similar neutron star. Part of astrophysicists believed that they occur at the surface of pulsars, others thought that they originate in the magnetosphere of these «dead» stars at a fairly high altitude from the surface in the so-called light cylinder.

Using ultra-precise atomic «clock», created by Russian scientists from Nizhny Novgorod to synchronize the work of «Radioastron» with the ground tracking stations and telescopes, Litvinov and his colleagues for several years check one of the cornerstones of Einstein’s relativity theory linking gravitation with how fast time flows in different points of space.

Such experiments have already been conducted over 40 years ago on Board the probe Gravity Probe A, and now they are on a couple of probes Galileo system released at the wrong orbit due to errors in the launch of «Soyuz-STB» in August 2014. While all three satellites, as noted Litvinov, indicate the validity of the calculations of Einstein, but that’s not stopping scientists from conducting repetitive inspections for one simple reason.

«Why should today be any doubt of the correctness of the formula of Einstein? The fact that many physicists believe that the theory of gravitation of Einstein is not completely accurate. Simply put, the formulas that govern gravity are slightly different from the Einstein’s formula. The main drawback of the General theory of relativity is that it is «classical», i.e. non-quantum theory,» says the scientist.

As noted Litvinov, almost all attempts to «prachandapath» gravity and unify it with other fundamental interactions, formulated in the last decades physicists require adjustments of the General theory of relativity and how it describes the phenomenon of gravitational time dilation. Any deviations that could fix the «Spektr-R» and other probes in orbit, can tell scientists where to look for a replacement to Einstein’s calculations.

«Now we can say that our experiment provides an independent test of the theory of gravitation of Einstein, or rather Einstein’s equivalence principle, roughly the same precision that Gravity Probe A, — about 0.01%. We still have a lot of work and most of the data is awaiting analysis. We hope that in the end will be able to improve the accuracy of the measurement 10 times, and if you’re lucky, and to detect a deviation from the formulas of Einstein,» concluded the Litvinov.

To see the shadow of the invisible

As noted by Kovalev, forecasts for the further life «Spectrum-R» it is quite difficult to do: now the telescope is in good condition, but degradation due to cosmic radiation occurs, many units of the satellite were replaced with their replacement version. If at least one of the key modules fails, the capabilities of the telescope can be limited. «Recently we have exhausted the reserves of hydrogen that were used in the frequency standard, and we had to switch to the alternate timing mode,» explained astrophysicist.

On the other hand, «Spektr-R» does not have problems with the traditional sore spot of many other space missions — fuel. According to Kovalev, in the tanks of the satellite is now about 70% of the original volume of fuel, so the probe will easily be able to survive another orbit if need be. The whole world, and the telescope: how scientists from Russia have transformed the space in Observatory© Photo : ESO/ S. OtarolaАстрономы created a telescope the size of the Earth to study black holes

From a financial point of view, «Roskosmos» will support the work of the satellite to the end of 2019, after which a decision will be made or on the next extension, or the completion of the mission. Interest in the «Radioastron» on the part of scientists, as noted by Kovalev continues to grow — it is hoped that the space telescope will last as long as possible to explore the most interesting objects in the Universe with extremely high resolution. According to him, on Friday, the mission management will announce the beginning of acceptance of applications for scientific observations «Radioastron» in the framework of the regular annual cycle, from July 2018 to June 2019.

«We would like to see the center of our Galaxy with the help of «Radioastron» and the shadow of the black hole that is there. This is a very difficult task — we conducted observations at the shortest wavelength of 1.3 cm in collaboration with many ground-based telescopes, and even in this case, it remains invisible to us. We hope that the outdoor «Radio» a new effect, the substructure of the dispersion of radio waves, will help to restore the map of the center of the Galaxy by using the algorithms of image reconstruction that we are currently developing», — concluded the scientist.