The lure of cosmic mysteries

Director of Metsähovi Radio Observatory, Astronomer Joni Tammi wants to uncover the secrets of the universe; secrets that have so far managed to elude us. However, with new advances in technology, the next major space discoveries are just around the corner.

”I remember reading an encyclopaedia at my grandparents’ as a child. It showed how planets’ trajectories could be demonstrated by cutting a cone from different directions. It’s astonishing how the movement of such massive planets can follow basic mathematical shapes. Now as an adult, I still find myself fascinated by the beauty of mathematics and physics.”

Eternal, fascinating space

Tammi’s career as an astronomer was sparked already in first grade when he gave his class a presentation about stars. Since then, all of his study choices have steered him towards a career in space research.

During his studies, Tammi was introduced to the use of computer simulations for space research in a course taught by Professor Esko Valtaoja. At the time, the models of colliding galaxies were still relatively simple, nevertheless, Tammi was mesmerised, so he decided to focus on theoretical astrophysics and the modelling of space phenomena.

Tammi sees space as part of our own environment, which we still don’t fully understand - What is it that fascinates him about space?

The minuteness of personal problems in the infinite vastness of space

‘It’s comforting to know that you’re so small. No matter how badly you screw up, it always helps just to look up and think that from a height of two hundred kilometres, your problems are no longer visible’.

Tammi has great enthusiasm for the future of astronomy and he is interested in finding out how the forces created by black holes turn into light and radio emissions.

‘We have now seen a photograph of a black hole, and we know that jets emitted by black holes send particles moving almost at the speed of light which makes them radiate strongly. However, we still don’t understand the process that leads to this. To get more insights, we need simultaneous observations at several frequencies, and over a long period of time. Sadly, this is not possible with current equipment’.

Leaping to a new level of technology

Metsähovi is Finland’s only astronomical observation station. In addition to research, its equipment enables the provision of instructions in radio astronomy and training researchers in the field. In order for us to remain on par with other world-class facilities, it requires enhancements to its technology.

Hopefully, within a few years, researchers will have access to a new kind of device that enable the simultaneous detection of radio waves on three separate frequencies. This will make observations considerably more accurate and much faster than is presently possible. Our understanding of space will vastly increase, and the number of subjects to study will grow from hundreds to thousands.

The music of outer space

Tammi illustrates how new technology would revolutionise our way of observing the universe by comparing it to music. ‘In a way, radio frequencies correspond to the strings of an instrument. You can play one string gently or forcefully, fast or slow, but music played on one string alone isn’t much good. However, add a few strings, and you can play an enormous number of different tunes’.

The new receiver will also help humanity prepare for any space-related threats. ‘Solar flares and dangerous solar storms could be forecast weeks before they hit the Astronomer Joni Tammi wants to uncover the secrets of the universe; secrets that have so far managed to elude us. However, with new advances in technology, the next major space discoveries are just around the corner.

This is crucial information as solar storms can damage satellites, electricity networks and radio frequency communications, and cause extensive power outages’, Tammi adds. Furthermore, a more accurate understanding of quasars will help make satellite positioning more precise. Quasars are extremely distant objects that emit much more powerful radiation than normal galaxies. Tammi says, ‘Once we gain information about what happens in quasar eruptions, we will be able to determine the position of the Earth relative to quasars more precisely. In addition, we could reach centimetre-level accuracy in satellite positioning’.

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