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It's All About Image

By Samuel Greengard

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 9, Pages 13-15

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Discovering the secrets of the universe is not a task for the timid and the impatient; there's a need to peer into the deepest reaches of outer space and try to make sense of distant galaxies, stars, gas clouds, quasars, halos, and black holes. "Understanding how these objects behave and how they interact gives us answers to how the universe was formed and how it works," says Kevin Schawinski, an astrophysicist and assistant professor in the Institute for Astronomy at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The problem is that traditional tools such as telescopes can see only so far, even with radical advances in optics and the placement of observatories in space, where they are free of the light and dust of Earth. For instance, the Hubble Telescope changed the way astrophysicists and astronomers viewed deep space by delivering far clearer images than previously possible. Of course, in this context, distance and time are inextricably linked. "But the images still do not allow us to see as far back in time as we would like," Schawinski says. "The farther we can see, the more we can understand about the origins of the universe and how it has evolved."


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