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Twisted Physics

WiFi in the Sky

4 Nov 2009, 04:46 UTC
WiFi in the Sky
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Quick question: what do black holes and your laptop's WiFi connection have in common? A recently honored astronomer and engineer named John O'Sullivan has the answer. There are lots of astronomy related prizes out there, but the 2009 Australian Prime Minister's Prize for Science, awarded to O'Sullivan, is noteworthy because its impact has been felt far beyond the field of astronomy and astrophysics.

See, way back in 1977, O'Sullivan co-authored a technical paper about how a set of equations known as Fourier transforms could be used to improve the optical images from telescopes that had been distorted by the atmosphere. Fourier transforms are central to modern digital signal processing: they essentially take complex wave signals and break them down into their component parts. Once the "recipe" is known, it is possible to rebuild the signal, or build a signal that effectively cancels out the noise in collected data. Fourier transforms can be applied to any wave: sound waves, water waves, and light waves.

O'Sullivan developed his techniques because he was searching for radio waves emitted by exploding black holes -- a phenomenon predicted by Stephen Hawking in 1974. O'Sullivan didn't find those objects, despite his success cleaning up the ...

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