[Big Ear Masthead]

OSU To Build Revolutionary
New Radio Telescope
By Bob Dixon and Steve Ellingson

January 21, 1999

The OSU Radio Observatory and Electroscience Laboratory of Ohio State University have received a gift of $150,000 to design and construct a prototype of the Argus radio telescope. Argus is a completely new approach to telescope design, which sees in all directions at the same time, eliminating the need to "point" it at anything. Argus eliminates the need for the large steel structures typical of radio telescopes, and instead uses a large number of small elements and small computers.

Argus can detect short-time events, such as exploding stars, or something that suddenly got a little brighter or dimmer. It can detect rapidly moving objects such as aircraft, spacecraft or meteors. Conventional telescopes cannot easily detect these kinds of events. These capabilities allow Argus to detect even more exciting things - those which are unpredictable and unknown to humankind. Perhaps the sounds of the vacuum, or even signals from another civilization.

The new techniques developed during the Argus research will be applied to the next generation of huge telescopes to be constructed on earth, including the one-hectare telescope in California and the one-square-kilometer telescope whose site is yet to be chosen.

Ever since Galileo invented the first telescope in 1609, all subsequent telescopes have used the same basic concepts, and hence have the same inherent limitations. These are:

  1. A telescope must be pointed in a certain direction.
  2. Only one person at a time can look thru a telescope.
  3. A telescope must contain precisely-made parts, such as lenses and mirrors and gears.
  4. A telescope must have moveable parts.
  5. A telescope is adversely affected by temperature and wind.
  6. A telescope must be focussed at a certain distance.
The Argus telescope concept starts over from the very beginning and creates a new instrument from scratch. It has none of the inherent limitations of other telescopes. The legacy of Galileo is overthrown.
  1. Argus sees the entire sky at once.
  2. Argus is connected to the Internet and can be used by everyone at once.
  3. Argus has no precisely-made parts.
  4. Argus has no moveable parts.
  5. Argus is unaffected by temperature and wind.
  6. Argus is focussed at all distances at once.
Argus has been made possible only recently by the computer revolution. Argus requires a huge amount of computing, which fortunately is rapidly getting more easily available at lower cost. This is in contrast to other telescopes which are getting more expensive as time goes on. Argus can consist of hundreds, thousands or even millions of small identical antenna elements and computers. Hence it can be built using mass-production techniques to lower the cost. Conventional telescopes are typically one-of-a-kind and hence more expensive.

The Argus telescope will be built on the west campus of Ohio State, at the ElectroScience Laboratory, which is also where the Radio Observatory (formerly at the Big Ear site near Delaware) is now located.

A more technical description of the Argus project is also available. For more information, contact Robert Dixon (Radio Observatory) at 292-1638 or Steve Ellingson (Electroscience Laboratory) at 292-5935.

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