Mapping the Radio Universe
Most of the marvels of the universe are invisible to us without technological assistance. Visible light is only a small slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from tiny, high-energy gamma rays to long, slow-moving radio waves. Imagine if you could put on radio glasses to view a range of light obscured from all but the most sophisticated telescopes. What would you see? You might be able to peer through dusty clouds and view the beginning stages of star formation or watch intermittent lighthouse bursts from pulsars, if the neutron star happens to be pointing towards earth at the right angle. What would it be like to see an array of energetic particles dancing around the Sun’s corona?
On September 7, 2017, the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) pointed its antennas toward the northern sky and began one of the largest all-sky radio observations in 40 years. The VLA Sky Survey (VLASS) will map 80 percent of the sky in 3 phases over 7 years and is expected to catalog approximately 10 million new radio sources. The survey will collect data from powerful, cosmic sources, producing data that will allow us to image supernovae explosions, gamma-ray bursts, and the collisions of neutron stars that are obscured from visible-light telescopes by thick clouds of dust. The VLA’s ability to see through dust and clouds will make the survey an important tool in the discovery of new radio objects.