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Sunday, 18 June, 2000, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Boost for astronomers
The Jodrell Bank radio telescope listened for Nasa's lost Mars mission
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Radio astronomers will have less interference in their exploration of the distant Universe from now on.

They have won protection for the parts of the radio spectrum they use in their research.

The 2,500 delegates to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC 2000) approved dedicated spectrum allocations for radio astronomy between 71 and 275 gigahertz.

This should means that satellite transmissions will not swamp the faint signals that come from the other side of the cosmos.

"It's a win for science," said John Whiteoak of the Australia Telescope National Facility, Australian delegate to WRC-2000.

Extra range

WRC 2000 added more than 90 GHz of spectrum to the 44 GHz already set aside for radio astronomy use.

It means that radio astronomy now "owns" most of the frequencies that can get through the Earth's atmosphere in that range.

The World Radiocommunication Conference is held every two to three years.

Member countries of the International Telecommunication Union meet at the WRC to allocate the radio frequency spectrum to applications such as cellphones, satellite broadcasting, global positioning systems, amateur radio, and the sciences of radio astronomy, Earth exploration and deep space research.

"There is more energy at millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelengths washing through the Universe than there is of light or any other kind of radiation," said Al Wootten of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

"Imaging the sources of this energy can tell us a great deal about the formation of stars and galaxies, and even planets."

Top priority

Johannes Andersen, General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union, which represents astronomers worldwide, welcomed the changes.

"Protecting our ability to observe the Universe is the top priority for the International Astronomical Union," Dr Andersen said.

"This action shows that international bodies accept the need for environmental emission standards in space as well as on Earth, for the benefit of all."

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