# Very cool.

Very cool. They use “distortions” of the radio signal by the interstellar medium between us and the pulsar to deduce the details smaller than can be resolved by direct interferometric observations. I don’t actually understand the nature of these distortions, but I’m guessing it’s something like how “seeing” in our atmosphere distorts optical images?

Here’s a great quote from their announcement: 50 picoarcsecond resolution is “equivalent to being able to see the double-helix structure of our genes from the Moon”

http://www.caastro.org/news/2014-astrometry

(P.S. the video Brian linked to below is not useful. The announcement I linked to is much more meaningful)

#picoarcseconds

Originally shared by Brian Koberlein

Pico Arcseconds

One of the advantages of radio astronomy is that you can connect observations from radio telescopes thousands of miles apart.  Done in the right way, this creates a radio interferometer that effectively makes a virtual telescope as big as the separation (baseline) of the individual telescopes.  The bigger your telescope (or virtual telescope), the finer the detail of your image.  When we talk about the detail level of an astronomical image, we usually talk about the angle of separation between two distinctly resolvable points.  So a resolution of a tenth of a degree would mean you could resolve two points of light (such as stars) separated by at least that angle.

In modern astronomy our resolution is much better than degrees, and we usually measure things in terms of arcseconds. An arcsecond is 1/3600 of a degree. It comes from dividing a degree into 60 minutes of arc, and each minute into 60 seconds of arc. Yes, the terms stem from their historical relation to time measurements.  Beyond arcseconds, we simply divide them into parts by base 10.  So a thousandth of an arcsecond is a milliarcsecond and so on.

Given the baseline of radio telescope interferometers, the upper resolution is typically on the order of milliarcseconds. But now a new paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has resolved a radio pulsar to picoarcseconds. That is, a trillionth of an arcsecond, or about a separation of 5 kilometers 2000 light years away.