Obviously the title depends somewhat on context, as Micahel Jackson would no doubt attest (I am of course referring to the inevitable regret he must have felt about trying to sort his nose out… honest). However, in the particular case I’m talking about the savvy Russians have just enacted a plan laid down during the cold war to grant us a space telescope with 10,000 times the resolution of Hubble. This plan uses the trick of interferometry to simulate a telescope with a ‘lens’ 30 times the diameter of the earth itself.
The bigger the size of a telescope, the more detail it can resolve, and hence the smaller the objects it can see. What interferometry allows you to do is take the signals from a series of radio telescopes x km apart, process the signals together, which will grant you a final image equivalent to one that would be taken with a single telescope x km wide.
This mission was first conceived back during the cold war, but put on hold after the collapse of the USSR. It has since been reactivated, and the RadioAstron mission launched from Kazakhstan early this morning. It’s an ambitious project, and there’s a number of hurdles to be overcome before we get the best from it – for starters at the moment there is only one ground station set up to recieve the signal data from the probe. That means we can only receive data while the antenna is within line of site of the receiver.
Still, it should be interesting to see what this project throws up over the next few years – it’s certainly the largest aperture radio telescope mission we’re going to see for a while.