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back to article Schmidt still scanning the skies 50 years after defining the quasar

Fifty years ago this Friday Dutch astronomer Maarten Schmidt revolutionized his field with a paper on quasars, the energy sources that now act as terrestrial guide points in our exploration of the cosmos. His initial 1963 paper was disputed by some of the biggest names in astronomy, got him on the cover of Time magazine (joining …

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Pint

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Kudos (and pints) to the good Doctor Schmidt.

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Holmes

I hope I'm not the only one who saw the headline and thought, "OK, what's Google up to *now*?"

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I'm guessing you *were* the only one...

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Anonymous Coward

Eric Schmidt is just scanning his millions and thinking of new ways to fsck the poor over.

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Counting his millions, yes, but I honestly don't think Schmidt's in the "fsck the poor" category, unlike some other Silicon Valley CEOs. I'd put him more in the PT Barnum category, Google does a great job of fleecing that sucker born every minute...

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Thumb Up

Thanks El Reg.

This is another person I had no idea about at all (and I thought a was reasonably well educated). He's looking good for an 84yo - better than quite a few 50yo's I know!

I hadn't realised the steady state theory had been the standard so recently.

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Re: OK..

Do we really have to read such things the family-friendly El Reg reader's circle?

I think a lengthy stay in a Jesus Camp should be your prize.

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WTF?

Re: OK..

@Camilla Smythe - What?!? That's a lot of vitriol from out of now where. Must have just come from one of El Reg's opinion pieces on climate change or something.

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WTF?

Re: OK..

One of the great things about science, Camilla, is that it's self-correcting. A scientific theory survives for as long as it provides a good explanation for natural phenomena, makes predictions that are later testable, and isn't contradicted by the observations that we make. If you think you've got a better explanation for the evolution of the universe, let's hear it.

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Boffin

No, no, no, no, no....

We read:

Because quasars are so far away, they are incredibly stable in their positioning, and as some of the brightest objects in the sky they are easily recognizable.

Hold on, what!

The brightest quasars have magnitude above 14 (i.e. are weaker than 14). THAT'S NOT BRIGHT, LIKE AT ALL. Pluto is 14.

I have heard the bizarre "GPS sats track by quasar" story earlier, but I frankly could not believe it. It's very much far easier to track by bright star, and update the map every 20 years than to carry supertelescopes on those satellites to detect random points at magnitude 14 lost in the haze of galaxies.

Do they track by RADIO BRIGHTNESS? I haven't seen a radio telescope on GPS sats either.

Sounds like an urban legend to me.

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Alien

Re: No, no, no, no, no....

Maybe it seems dim because it's very far away?

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Alien

Re: No, no, no, no, no....

Also perhaps the quasars are used to calculate the orbit to put satellites in rather than satellites directly observing them. Certainly if you had a Star ship the quasar map would be brilliant.

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Re: No, no, no, no, no....

But your orbit will be subject to random errors as time progresses. So you have to correct it via on-board methods. Maybe ground control uses the plotted position of the satellite against the quasar map to tell the satellite how to fire thrusters. Maybe. But I would like to see a complete explanation of how that is supposed to work.

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Pirate

Quasars used for accurate geodesy, which is essential for GPS

"quasars have magnitude above 14". You are thinking about visible light, in radio astronomy about 10% of quasars sit well above the noise floor of a modest radio telescope.

The GPS systems don't use quasars directly. Rather quasars are the reference points for surveying the earth's position in space (you use two interconnected radio telescopes half the world apart to form a baseline and then measure the different times of arrival of the quasar's signal, triangulating the position of earth in space, the jargon word is "eVLBI geodesy").

This field of research was very interesting to the US Air Force during the Cold War as it was directly relevant to the accuracy of their ICBMs. That work continues to be used to accurately place GPS and surveillance satellites, which are flip sides of the same triangulation problem.

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Trollface

Re: Quasars used for accurate geodesy, which is essential for GPS

>US Air Force during the Cold War as it was directly relevant to the accuracy of their ICBMs.

Of course one of the rare examples they tout of why its a good idea for us (the US) to spend more than but a handful of countries entire GDP on weapons and corporate death merchants for "defense". Even the sun shines on a dog's balls occasionally.

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Holmes

Re: Quasars used for accurate geodesy, which is essential for GPS

Well, it seems Quasar-Based Earth Attitude Tracking was set up in the early 90's, so clearly it wasn't used for the Cold War.

What was used for the cold war was pretty good integrators on ICBMs (integrate over the acceleration to find out your current speed, integrate over speed to find out where you are). An upgraded V2, basically. Even GPS tracking came later, with Cruise Missiles in the Gulf War 1 (earliest). Prior to that, Cruise Missiles had integrated terrain recognition systems.

Even the Minuteman III was "inertially guided":

http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/icbm/lgm-30_3.htm

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Gold badge

Re: Quasars used for accurate geodesy, which is essential for GPS

Even GPS tracking came later, with Cruise Missiles in the Gulf War 1 (earliest).

They were still using terrain guidance on Cruise then, at the very least for final guidance onto target.

I remember a hack who was in Baghdad saying he was standing at his hotel window and a Cruise Missile went past the window, following the street. He said it turned left at the junction down the way and then obliterated the TV centre round the corner.

He also said that he almost expected it to stop, as the lights at the junction were red.

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Bronze badge

A good book Schmidt "stars" in ...

Richard Preston's "First Light".

See http://www.amazon.com/First-Light-Search-Edge-Universe/dp/0812991850

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Paris Hilton

Oort cloud confirmed?

I was surprised to read this in the article, but googling, could not find any articles saying how this was confirmed? Anyone have any pointers? Or this still in the category of hypothetical (albeit highly likely).

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