The High Desert is the perfect place for astronomy. Looking up at the stars has been a major pastime of desert dwellers for eons. These days, there is a huge effort to protect the dark skies in the high desert so that astronomy research and education can continue to take place there, as these are some of the darkest skies remaining in the modern world.

A focus on astronomy is a natural extension of any research institute in the High Deserts. In fact, there are already many groups across the high deserts that have been set up for the purpose of educational and recreational astronomy. Many a nomad can be spotted gazing through a telescope next to a camper van on a clear night.

One of the areas of bleeding edge research that benefits from being located in the high deserts is radio interferometry. Take for example the famous Very Large Array in the nearby high desert of New Mexico. Built in the 1970s, the VLA is still an important tool for radio astronomy today.

As you may have guessed, radio interferometry technology has advanced somewhat since the 1970s, and there is a huge opportunity to apply techniques like artificial intelligence to the problem of analyzing and understanding the data we receive from radio observatories. One of the most popular projects in this field has been the search for extraterrestrial life. This project was one of the major factors that led to a renaissance in distributed computing through the SETI@Home project which gave birth to a vast number of distributed computing projects. Today as a result of this work, people at home can contribute their computer’s downtime to projects like curing cancer or discovering revolutionary drugs to cure diseases.

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Building our own much smaller and simpler radio observatory with modern technology will enable us to contribute original research to the field. Realistically, today, a coherent synchronous software defined radio with antennas spread out across a few acres of land can accomplish much of what these older larger projects could accomplish; particularly with the benefit of advanced artificial intelligence assisting in the analysis. These are all things our team has a lot of experience with.

Here are a few examples of projects that we plan to run once this equipment is in place.

Gravity Vision

Humans see in the visible spectrum of light, but there are many other ways we could see the universe, including through gravity. This deeply transhumanist discourse was perfectly illustrated in this scene from Battlestar Galactica…

“I don’t want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly, because I have to—I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language, but I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I can know much more.

—John Cavil, Cylon Model Number One, “No Exit”

Our human eyes are limited to the visible spectrum, and things we can alter to be visible in that spectrum. With radio interferometry, we are able to see so much more. We even have techniques for “seeing” through gravity waves. This is still bleeding edge science which I (CJ) have been working on for years. Building this project and contributing to this science is a major life goal which could unlock so much about the universe that lies just below the surface of what we are currently capable of seeing.

Imagine being able to see gravity wave propagating and interacting across the interstellar medium. We could locate and identify previously undiscovered planets and moons. Eventually we could even detect small meteors and asteroids despite not being able to “see” them with light. The potential is very exciting.

Radio Vision

Your phone has half a dozen radios built in which are constantly transmitting identifying information about who you are; the same goes for your car, laptop, tablet, watch, airpods, etc. Companies like Apple and Google use this information to track you and sell you things. I think people are really not aware of how much information is being broadcast by their devices.

This project would give us the ability to use the interferometry array to visually see these broadcasts coming off of people as they walk around or drive by the land. Imagine the potential uses for this kind of technology; seeing someone coming from miles away before they even cross into view.

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One of the topics I’ve also been writing about since the earliest days of undergrad is the potential to use an interferometer to find the exact position of the array in space and time by precisely locating known reference signals such as pulsars and quasars as well as known terrestrial radio sources such as radio stations. Triangulating the exact position of these reference sources allows the array to precisely locate itself in time and space, far more accurately than GPS and without relying on the extremely fragile GPS infrastructure which could be damaged or destroyed by solar flares or future conflicts.

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