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TODAY IN FUTURISTIC TECHNOLOGY: An Earth-Sized Telescope, Janitor Satellites, and an Atom-Sized Tran
February 25, 2012
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The last week has seen some fascinating new scientific inventions and ideas, from the absolutely massive - a telescope the size of Earth, say - to the incredibly tiny - a transistor the size of a molecule.

'Seeing' A Black Hole With An Earth-Sized Telescope

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Black holes are very important to science: they're a big part of Einstein's theory of relativity, and they've helped scientists understand the formation of our universe. But here's the thing: no one knows for certain whether they exist. That's why researchers at the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) are working on creating a telescope the size of the Earth, in order to find actual evidence of a black hole that is believed to be at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.

Of course, they're not actually going to build a Death Star-style planet-sized telescope - instead, they'll use a technique called very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) to combine data from radio telescopes around the world in order to create an imaging area the size of the whole planet. While VLBI has been employed in smaller ways in the past, new technology has led to the creation of a supercomputer that can process data from all over the world in a precise manner, so that scientists believe it's only a matter of time before they get an image that will prove or disprove the existence of a black hole in the middle of our galaxy.

Cleaning Up Earth's Space Debris

Speaking of Earth and its relationship with space: we've got a lot of junk in orbit around our planet. Old satellites that have not fallen back to Earth are cluttering up the upper atmosphere, and the inevitable collisions that take place can cause expensive damage to new technology, as well as increasing the amount of random debris floating around up there. According to NASA, there are over 500,000 pieces of spent rocket stages, broken satellites and other debris orbiting Earth.

A group of Swiss scientists is working on a "janitor satellite", specially designed to track down space debris and tidy it up. Called CleanSpace One, the USD11 million project is underway at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne. The satellite will be fairly small, and designed to chase down and capture pieces of debris. Questions remain about how cost-effective the project will end up being, given that the satellite is designed to burn up when it reenters Earth's atmosphere.

The Tiniest Transistor

This scientific achievement is on the smaller side, but it could have huge implications for human knowledge. Physicists at Purdue University and the University of South Wales have created a transistor made from a single atom of phosphorous, and placed it, with a high degree of precision, on a bed of silicon. The achievement is a big step on the path to creating a quantum computer which would be capable of cracking today's most complex mathematical problems in relatively short order.

Physicists still can't agree on whether building such a computer is practically possible. But this latest achievement gets the theoretical science a little bit closer to testable reality.

Related stories on Strombo.com:

VIDEO: Behold the Frozen Floating Puck of Science!

Today in Futuristic Military Robots

Sources:

PopSci on the Black Hole Telescope

CBS News on the Janitor Satellite

Wired on the Tiny Transistor

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