The radio telescope aims to explore the Milky Way – The Campus


Amidst the greenery of the Carr Hall garden is a large reused television dish.

The dish in question – a radio telescope operated by the physics department – received a number of upgrades thanks to a student’s summer research opportunity. Most noticeable being his new paint job, courtesy of Major in Physics and Minor in Energy and Society Benjamin Ramsey, ’22.

“He’s now painted as a flower, a cosmos flower to be exact,” Ramsey said. “It’s a bit of a play on words. … It is representative of the great cosmos that we are studying with the telescope.

Ramsey, who plans to use the data collected by the telescope as part of his main global project, explained that the radio telescope itself receives information from all of our universe in the form of a specific frequency of radio waves.

“This telescope specifically records an emission of neutral hydrogen from 21 centimeters,” Ramsey said. “Basically a bunch of clouds in our universe are constantly emitting radio waves, and the radio telescope collects those radio waves and receives them, then spits out data for me to watch.”

Physics professor Daniel Willey, director of the radio telescope faculty, clarified that although the radio telescope does not work the same as a normal telescope, in some cases it is more efficient.

“(The Milky Way) is actually mostly gas with a few dust particles included,” Willey said. “So when you want to look far into our galaxy, the problem is that a lot of the light can’t go through all of that dust and some of the gas as well.… If you want to see that distance, you can’t. see it optically because the light does not get there, but the radio waves of this hydrogen get here.

Willey explained that it is possible to create a map of the galaxy by plotting points received by the radio telescope – a feat almost impossible by any other method of observation.

“We’re stuck inside the galaxy,” Willey said. “We can’t go out of the galaxy and take a picture. It’s just too far. You’d have to be hundreds of millions of light years away to be able to see that, and we’ve never sent anything this far. It’s hard to see what we’re in because we don’t have the perspective.

According to Ramsey, the radio telescope is an ongoing project for senior executives; something that has “always been sort of functional, but never fully functional”.

Ben Ramsey, 22, presents his research on the Carr Hall radio telescope at Phenomenal Physics Fact Finders, a research symposium on Gator Day, Wednesday, September 22. (Sami Mirza)

“There were a lot of sets of the radio telescope that fixed it and got it ready for the next team to use,” Ramsey said. “It’s not to destroy anyone’s job. I think everyone who has worked on the radio telescope has done a very good job, but (it) allows us to do observational astronomy. This is really the only research going on at Allegheny that is observational astronomy.

Willey pointed out that Ramsey’s summer job earned him fame in the physics department.

“I think no one has worked on this over the summer, which is good because a lot of times what happens is the students do the senior project (on the telescope), and at the by the time they’re ready to take data, the time is up, “Willey said.” So hopefully (Ramsey has) a head start working through the summer. “

While the telescope was worked as recently as the spring of 2021 by then-senior Austin Shaw, Willey cited his troubled past as part of the reason for his constant need for work.

“This dish… was above Murray Hall,” Willey said. “Maybe they got the TV out of it. I do not know.”

Willey explained that when reconfigured as a radio telescope, the satellite dish sits atop Carr Hall because a more exposed sky produces better results.

“The last time they remodeled Carr Hall, when they moved to the environmental science department, we had to take it all down,” Willey said. “And after that they said, ‘Well, we don’t want people on the roof anymore.’ So we had to choose a location and (its current location) was the location.

According to Willey, the telescope still needs work on the motors that allow it to move up and down – at full functionality, it’s able to move in all directions – and change wiring configurations, but otherwise Ramsey will be soon. ready to start data collection.

Ramsey hopes the opportunity to collect data from the radio telescope will help him move forward after graduation.

“I want to go to higher school,” Ramsey said. “And I think this project opened my eyes to radio astronomy and observational astronomy in general. I have always dreamed of being a theoretical physicist and dealing with general relativity, but … really this model has opened my perception to the idea that I perhaps want to pursue observational astronomy as a path of potential career.

Willey acknowledged the hard work Ramsey put into the project, but still made it clear that he had his contributions.

“You can give it all the credit, but I suggested (painting the telescope like a cosmos flower),” Willey said.

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