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Jodrell Bank Links with Other Observatories to Create Radio Telescope the Size of Earth

01/25/2009 07:57PM

Jodrell Bank Links with Other Observatories to Create Radio Telescope the Size of Earth
Radio telescopes around the world joined forces last week to carry out a unique observation of three quasars -- distant galaxies powered by super-massive black holes at their cores. The nearly continuous 33-hour observation was conducted by seventeen telescopes in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America, including several operated from the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory.

Arpad Szomoru, Head of Technical Operations and R&D at the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE) noted, "The unique aspect of these observations is that telescopes located all around the globe will be brought together to work in real-time as a single gigantic instrument."

Using an astronomical technique called electronic, real-time Very Long Baseline Interferometry (e-VLBI), participating telescopes observed the same object simultaneously. Data from each telescope was streamed across the globe through high-speed optical networks to a purpose-built supercomputer called a correlator located at JIVE in the Netherlands. This machine acted as the focus of the giant distributed telescope, the largest real-time telescope ever, combining the signals collected from instruments across the world.

"By combining information from such widely separated radio telescopes we can produce incredibly sharp images with up to one hundred times better resolution than those available from the best optical telescopes", said Simon Garrington, Director of the UK's MERLIN/VLBI National Facility. "It's like being able to sit here in Manchester and read a newspaper in London".

“It was almost a feeling like the Olympic torch being passed around the world,” said Garrington.

With e-VLBI the ability to send data electronically and combine it in real-time has the additional advantage of providing results to astronomers within hours of conducting an observation, rather than weeks later via the traditional VLBI method of recording data onto disks and shipping it to the correlator.

JIVE Director Huib Jan van Langevelde explained, "With VLBI we can zoom in on the most energetic events in the universe, and the new e-VLBI technique allows us to do this fast enough to catch such events on the time-scale that they occur and respond quickly."

This e-VLBI observation was made possible by the Express Production Real-time e-VLBI Service (EXPReS). Funded by the European Commission, EXPReS has been working since 2006 to connect radio telescopes around the world to the correlator at JIVE using high-speed optical networks

For more information:

http://www.jodrellbank.manchester.ac.uk/news/2009/IYA-e-VLBI/

http://www.expres-eu.org/iya2009/

http://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=842

http://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=827

http://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=739

http://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=611


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