Astronomers get radio protection

Studying the universe at millimeter-wave energies is one of the last frontiers in astronomy.

The cosmos pours out most of its energy at these radio wavelengths. Observers can record the birth pangs of stars in our own galactic neighborhood as well as the faint glow from the most distant objects in the universe.

Last month, astronomers who focus on millimeter-wave emissions won protection for the signals they measure. At the World Radiocommunication Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, delegates agreed to reserve for astronomers nearly all microwave frequencies between 71 and 275 gigahertz that can pass through Earth’s atmosphere. Millimeter-wave telescopes are vulnerable to interference from satellite signals at these frequencies.

Although commercial satellites don’t currently broadcast at these high frequencies, now astronomers won’t have to worry about interference from these or other devices in the future.

The new agreement is “a win for millimeter-wave science,” says delegate John Whiteoak of the Australia Telescope National Facility in Epping.

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