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  • richardmitnick 8:47 am on September 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Radio Astronomy,   

    From NOVA: “Build Your Own Radio Telescope” 

    PBS NOVA

    NOVA

    Thu, 24 Jul 2014
    Tim De Chant

    In 2010, on the far northern part of New Zealand’s North Island, a satellite dish was unceremoniously decommissioned and scheduled for demolition. But thanks to pluck of a few scientists, the anticipated death of the dish ended up giving radio astronomy on the island new life.

    Lewis Woodburn, who is in charge of maintenance for Auckland University of Technology’s radio telescope, and his colleagues smelled opportunity when they heard of the decommissioning and convinced Telcom New Zealand to transfer ownership of the dish over to their department. At 30 meters, Telcom New Zealand’s dish was substantially larger than the 12-meter dish already operated by the university. If they could successfully repurpose it, the new, larger dish would boost their capabilities in radio astronomy.

    It wasn’t easy, though. Technology Review details their struggles in getting the 30-meter dish operational:

    What they inherited was a far cry from a state-of-the-art radio telescope. The dish is located near a remote township in the very north of New Zealand’s North Island. Being only five kilometers from the sea, salt corrosion was significant issue, particularly given the lack of recent maintenance.

    So the team’s first task was to clean the dish service and replace rusty bolts and equipment. In particular, the motors that move the dish had become rusted and in any case were old and inefficient.

    That’s not all; Technology Review’s Emerging Technology From the arXiv blog goes into more detail. After a series of refurbishment and upgrades, the new dish is finally a bonafide radio telescope, though it still needs a bit more work to give it the capabilities astronomers at Auckland University of Technology want.

    This clever repurposing of an old telecommunications dish led to an inevitable question: Can anyone build their own radio telescope? The answer, I discovered, is yes.

    carma
    CARMA Radio Telescope
    A DIY radio telescope won’t have the power of the CARMA Radio Telescope seen here, but you’ll have a view of the sky shared by few others.

    There are a few blog posts that detail people’s experiments with refitting old satellite TV dishes for radio telescope duty, but they vary in their level of detail. Fortunately, Jeff Lashley goes into great detail in a chapter titled “Microwave Radio Telescope Projects.” (pdf) He explains how to convert a compact satellite dish into a radio telescope and how to hook it up to software developed at MIT for a similar purpose. With all the parts in place, you can do things like observe radio waves emitted by the sun or study how the ionosphere affects those same emissions.

    A home-built radio telescope may not be as sensitive as the Very Large Array, but you’ll still be able to study the stars in ways few people can.

    NRAO VLA
    VLA

    See the full article here.

    NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television. It is also one of television’s most acclaimed series, having won every major television award, most of them many times over.

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  • richardmitnick 10:37 am on September 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    About SKA from CIO Australia: “Pawsey rigs up petascale supercomputer” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    cio

    09 September, 2014
    Byron Connolly (CIO)

    Cray XC30 system has more than 35,000 cores.

    The $80 million Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Western Australia has completed the final upgrade of its ‘Magnus’ machine, which provides processing power in excess of a petaflop.

    Magnus, the largest research computer in the Southern Hemisphere, is a Cray XC30 system with more than 35,000 cores using Intel’s new Xeon’s E5-2600 v3 processors. A petaflop machine can complete one quadrillion floating point operations per second.

    cray
    The ‘Magnus’ petscale supercomputer

    It follows the launch in August 2012 of Pawsey’s terascale supercomputer, dubbed Fornax.

    The Pawsey facility is run by iVEC, a collaboration between the CSIRO, the University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, Curtin University, and Edith Cowan University.

    The CSIRO has been eyeing a petascale computer since late 2011 to crunch data for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio astronomy telescopes projects.

    SKA CSIRO  Pathfinder Telescope
    SKA CSIRO Pathfinder Radio Telescope

    ska murch
    SKA Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

    Magnus will also be used by researchers in the areas of nanotechnology, high energy physics, medical research, mining and petroleum, architecture and construction, and urban planning.

    Pawsey Supercomputing Centre executive director, Dr Neil Stringfellow, said Pawsey currently runs 100 science projects being run by 500 plus users at any one time.

    Read more In pictures: Pawsey Centre

    Dr Stringfellow said researchers from Curtin University had already used the machine – running the earlier Intel Xeon E5-2600 v1 processors – to do lung simulations using a ‘moving mesh’ computational approach.

    “This helps us to understand how the lungs work – it’s the largest lung simulation in the world,” he said.

    This research will help people with asthma, for example, by creating improved aerosol medications, he said.

    Scientific researchers were so keen to get access to computing power provided by this machine that Pawsey was three times oversubscribed in the number of CPU hours that were available to give away.

    There was demand for 250 million CPU hours from researchers in mining, geoscience, bioinformatics, and ‘blue sky’ research in astronomy around galaxy formations.

    “What we have here is a world-class scientific instrument,” he said.

    Dr Stringfellow told CIO Australia that Pawsey had no plans to install a quantum computer in the near future.

    Meanwhile, the Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips include platform telemetry sensors and metrics for CPU, memory and I/O usage, as well as thermal sensors that monitor airflow and outlet temperature.

    A cache monitoring feature also provides data that lets orchestration tools intelligently place and rebalance workloads, resulting in faster completion times.

    It also conducts analysis of performance anomalies due to competition for cache in a multi-tenant cloud environment where there is little visibility into what workloads consumers are running, Intel said.

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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  • richardmitnick 9:59 pm on September 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “Violent Origins of Pancake Galaxies Probed by ALMA” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Wednesday, 17 September 2014

    Contacts

    Junko Ueda
    JSPS postdoctoral fellow/NAOJ
    Tel: +88 422 34 3117
    Email: junko.ueda@nao.ac.jp

    Lars Lindberg Christensen
    Head of ESO ePOD
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
    Cell: +49 173 3872 621
    Email: lars@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    NAOJ Chile Observatory EPO officer
    Tel: +88 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    New observations explain why Milky Way-like galaxies are so common in the Universe

    For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using ALMA and a host of other radio telescopes have found direct evidence that merging galaxies can instead form disc galaxies, and that this outcome is in fact quite common. This surprising result could explain why there are so many spiral galaxies like the Milky Way in the Universe.

    bunch
    Distribution of gas in merging galaxies observed by radio telescopes. Contours indicate the radio intensity emitted from CO gas. The colour shows the motion of gas. The red color indicates gas is moving away from us while the blue colour is coming closer to us. The gradation from red to blue means that gas is rotating in a disc-like manner around the centre of the galaxy. | Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al

    disc
    Example of disc galaxy, The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253)
    Atlas Image [or Atlas Image mosaic] courtesy of 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/http://www.nsf.gov/

    An international research group led by Junko Ueda, a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow, has made surprising observations that most galaxy collisions in the nearby Universe — within 40–600 million light-years from Earth — result in so-called disc galaxies. Disc galaxies — including spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and lenticular galaxies — are defined by pancake-shaped regions of dust and gas, and are distinct from the category of elliptical galaxies.

    It has, for some time, been widely accepted that merging disc galaxies would eventually form an elliptically shaped galaxy. During these violent interactions the galaxies do not only gain mass as they merge or cannibalise each-other, but they are also changing their shape throughout cosmic time, and therefore changing type along the way.

    Computer simulations from the 1970s predicted that mergers between two comparable disc galaxies would result in an elliptical galaxy. The simulations predict that most galaxies today are elliptical, clashing with observations that over 70% of galaxies are in fact disc galaxies. However, more recent simulations have suggested that collisions could also form disc galaxies.

    To identify the final shapes of galaxies after mergers observationally, the group studied the distribution of gas in 37 galaxies that are in their final stages of merging. The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) and several other radio telescopes were used to observe emission from carbon monoxide (CO), an indicator of molecular gas.

    The team’s research is the largest study of molecular gas in galaxies to date and provides unique insight into how the Milky Way might have formed. Their study revealed that almost all of the mergers show pancake-shaped areas of molecular gas, and hence are disc galaxies in the making. Ueda explains: “For the first time there is observational evidence for merging galaxies that could result in disc galaxies. This is a large and unexpected step towards understanding the mystery of the birth of disc galaxies.”

    Nonetheless, there is a lot more to discover. Ueda added: “We have to start focusing on the formation of stars in these gas discs. Furthermore, we need to look farther out in the more distant Universe. We know that the majority of galaxies in the more distant Universe also have discs. We however do not yet know whether galaxy mergers are also responsible for these, or whether they are formed by cold gas gradually falling into the galaxy. Maybe we have found a general mechanism that applies throughout the history of the Universe.”

    The team is composed of Junko Ueda (JSPS postdoctoral fellow/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan [NAOJ]), Daisuke Iono (NAOJ/The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]), Min S. Yun (The University of Massachusetts), Alison F. Crocker (The University of Toledo), Desika Narayanan (Haverford College), Shinya Komugi (Kogakuin University/ NAOJ), Daniel Espada (NAOJ/SOKENDAI/Joint ALMA Observatory), Bunyo Hatsukade (NAOJ), Hiroyuki Kaneko (University of Tsukuba), Yoichi Tamura (The University of Tokyo), David J. Wilner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Ryohei Kawabe (NAOJ/ SOKENDAI/The University of Tokyo) and Hsi-An Pan (Hokkaido University/SOKENDAI/NAOJ)

    The data were obtained by ALMA, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy: a millimeter array consisting of 23 parabola antennas in California, the Submillimeter Array a submillimeter array consisting of eight parabola antennas in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Plateau de Bure Interferometer, the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope, USA’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory 12m telescope, USA’s Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory 14m telescope, IRAM’s 30m telescope, and the Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope as a supplement.

    carma
    CARMA Array

    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    SAO Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea

    IRAM Interferometer Submillimeter Array of Radio Telescopes
    IRAM Interferometer

    naoj
    NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope

    aro
    ARO KP12M Radio Telescope

    IRAM 30m Radio telescope
    IRAM 30m Radio Telescope

    ESO
    Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope

    See the full article, with notes, here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

    NRAO Small

    ESO 50

    NAOJ

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  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on September 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    About SKA in Botswana: “Botswana to play part in SKA project ” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    From
    bus

    Sept. 15, 2014
    John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

    Botswana has confirmed its participation in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Astronomy project. This was revealed by the Minister of Infrastructure Science and Technology Johnny Swartz during the International Association of Science and Technology for Development Africa (IASTED) conference recently.

    dish

    Swartz told participants that Botswana would “host a subset of radio telescope dishes as part of a 3000-strong compliment of dishes stretching across Southern and East Africa.” According to the minister, taking part in the SKA project will enable the country participate in and contribute to frontier fundamental science research as well as enhance its scientific capacity. In addition, Swartz said this will help build related infrastructure and advance other areas such as high performance computing for the analysis of large data sets generated by telescopes. Swartz has met with the South African minister responsible for Science and Technology more than once, both in Botswana and South Africa.

    Earlier he explained that the government had introduced several programmes in an effort to create an enabling environment for research science and technology as well as innovation.

    “This shows Botswana’s commitment in prioritizing and placing science and technology as a major driver of our economy.” The policies alluded to by the Minister include the ‘Revised National Infrastructure and Communications Policy and the Research, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy of 2012.’

    The government was also in the process of formulating strategies to speed up the transformation of the country from being a natural-resource driven to a technology-driven and knowledge-driven economy.

    Meanwhile, in a related development, the Ministry of Transport and Communication (MTC) through its department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) has established collaboration with IST-Africa consortium. IST-Africa consortium is a strategic partnership between international Information Management Corporation of Ireland and Ministries and National Councils responsible for ICT in 18 African countries, supported by the European Union and the African Union Commission.

    “This programme will facilitate the development of Botswana’s research sector through collaboration and funding. Its main objectives are to promote International Research Cooperation, Innovation and entrepreneurship as well as knowledge sharing and Skills Transfer between IST-Africa partners.

    In November 2013 MCT hosted two IST-Africa training workshops focused on Research Collaboration under programmes of Horizon 2020 and Living Labs. “The workshops helped in guiding relevant organisations on processes in place used to acquire funds from European organs during open calls,” said an official from DTPS.

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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  • richardmitnick 7:54 am on September 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    About SKA from The Register 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    Register

    Australia’s first pass at the Square Kilometre Array – the Boolardy Engineering Test Array – is about to get commissioned into a fully-live system.

    test

    The test array, known naturally enough as BETA, is part of the science-before-the-science: a proving ground for some of the new technologies being used for the SKA project, in particular, the Phased Array Feeds.

    Those feeds represent a new way of getting signals from the parabolic dishes of the array: instead of the waveguides that collect signals in an old style dish (like The Dish, which recently had to cut back the number of frequencies it would install waveguides for as a cost-saving measure), PAFs put an array of receptors at the focal plane.

    As BETA’s operators explain in this Arxiv paper, that arrangement lets “multiple independently steerable primary beams to be synthesised electronically”, but because it’s never been done before, the test deployment existed for tasks like working out how to form the beams for particular imaging tasks, measuring the pattern stability of the beams, and working out how best to arrange multiple beams into a large field of view.

    Along the way, BETA is also showing off some of the other technologies that’ll be fundamental for the SKA. Once signals from the telescopes have been digitised (using CSIRO-designed boards dubbed DragonFly-2), they’re sent from the telescopes to a central facility for processing.

    With just six antennas in place, the central processing (handled by another board from CSIRO called Redback-2) has plenty to work with: each PAF port on each antenna produces 304 individual 1 MHz channels, with each antenna needing 16 of the Redback-2 boards and 10 GB/second communications.

    Each 12 hour observation run of BETA is good for dumping nearly 154 MB/second on the facility’s disk, for a total of 816 GB. The ASKAP central processor, a 472-node Cray XC30 at Perth’s Pawsey Centre, is currently working hard to fill the 10 PB of Spectra Logic tape storage (duplicated for insurance) available for the facility, and that’s slated for expansion to 50 PB. ®

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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  • richardmitnick 2:37 pm on September 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SKA: “China completes its prototype dish for the SKA” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    On 18 August 2014, Professor Philip Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, accompanied by Mrs. Zhao Jing from the SKA China Office of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology visited the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54) in Shijiazhuang, about 300km south west of Beijing. Professor Diamond, hosted by Mr. Wang Feng, President of the company specialising in antenna construction, was able to see a complete prototype SKA antenna and hold discussions with the CETC54 SKA team.

    chinese
    The completed DVA-C antenna with CETC54′s SKA team and Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation

    “The CETC54 crew had worked night and day for weeks to complete the antenna for my visit, and I was personally overwhelmed that they had worked so hard and completely impressed by what they had achieved”, reported Phil Diamond after the visit.

    CETC54, on behalf of the Joint Laboratory for Radio Astronomy Technology (JLRAT), the Chinese member of the SKA DISH consortium, is doing the manufacturing and installation of the Dish Verification Antenna China (DVA-C), one of the three prototype antennas being built as part of the SKA Design phase.

    Two other designs, one Canadian and one South African, are being considered by the DISH consortium to develop the final SKA dish prototype.

    canada
    On Wednesday, May 7th, Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) successfully mounted the DVA-1 Primary Dish onto the telescope pier. DVA-1 is a prototype antenna for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

    s.a.
    First night in the Karoo for the first MeerKAT antenna against the backdrop of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds. Credit Photowise
    27 March 2014, Carnarvon, Northern Cape, South Africa – The first of 64 antennas that will make up SKA’s African precursor telescope – MeerKAT – was officially launched today by South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom. The Minister also officially opened the specialised MeerKAT Karoo Array Processor Building – the cutting edge data centre for the MeerKAT telescope that has been built in an underground bunker at the Karoo observatory site.

    “Manufacturing of DVA-C started in late 2013 and it was a challenge both in terms of technology and fabrication to complete it in only eight months,” said Mr. Wang Feng.

    The DVA-C verification test will be completed in December 2014. The experience in building DVA-C and the tests conducted on it will benefit the SKA to design the final SKA dish prototype. The Chinese antenna is an offset Gregorian dual reflector. The main and sub reflectors were made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP), based on single piece panel and surface metallizing technology. The main reflector size is 18m × 15m, the sub reflector size is 5m × 4.7m.

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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  • richardmitnick 6:53 pm on September 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From ALMA: “ALMA Achieves New High Frequency Observing Capabilities: Shows Planet Uranus in New Light” 

    ESO ALMA Array
    ALMA

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014
    Valeria Foncea
    Education and Public Outreach Officer
    Joint ALMA Observatory
    Santiago, Chile
    Tel: +56 2 467 6258
    Cell: +56 9 75871963
    Email: vfoncea@alma.cl

    Charles E. Blue
    Public Information Officer
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Tel: +1 434 296 0314
    Cell: +1 434.242.9559
    Email: cblue@nrao.edu

    Richard Hook
    Public Information Officer, ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Masaaki Hiramatsu
    Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
    Observatory Tokyo, Japan
    Tel: +81 422 34 3630
    Email: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has reached a major milestone by extending its vision fully into the realm of the submillimeter, the wavelengths of cosmic light that hold intriguing information about the cold, dark, and distant Universe.

    Uranus
    ALMA high frecuencies image of Uranus

    This achievement opens an entirely new window on the Universe for ALMA and goes beyond its existing capabilities with the Band 9 receivers. It also is a critical step in the telescope’s commissioning process, which brings its full capabilities to bear and makes them available to the international astronomical community.

    As a demonstration of its new capabilities, the commissioning team released a new image of planet Uranus as it appears in submillimeter wavelength light. The image ― obtained with ALMA’s highest frequency, Band 10 receivers ― reveals the icy glow from the planet’s atmosphere, which is a frigid -224 degrees Celsius (making Uranus the coldest planet in the Solar System). ALMA’s now broader range of capabilities will enable astronomers and planetary scientists to study and monitor changes in the atmosphere of Uranus and other distant objects in our Solar System in ways that were previously not possible.

    cold
    The cold atmosphere of Uranus imaged with the ALMA band 10 receivers | Neil Phillips (ESO/JAO) and Ed Fomalont (NRAO)

    JAO astronomer Satoko Takahashi of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan who lead this effort said: “Before astronomers could take advantage of the highest frequencies, we first had to take the telescope through its paces and establish observing strategies that yield the best, most accurate results. That’s why commissioning is so critical to our success”.

    ALMA observes the cosmos by using a series of precisely tuned receivers that are installed on each of the array’s 66 antennas. Each receiver type is sensitive to a particular “band”, or range of wavelengths, of the electromagnetic spectrum. The highest frequency Band 10 receivers have already been installed and tested on a majority of the ALMA antennas and the remainder will be installed and integrated over the next several months.

    band 10
    ALMA band 10 receiver cartridge | NAOJ

    To take full advantage of ALMA’s new high-frequency capabilities, the commissioning team is in the process of refining two new observing techniques. The first, “band to band transfer,” enables ALMA to observe at high frequencies in less than optimal weather conditions by first observing an object at longer wavelengths, and then using that data to calibrate, or “tune,” the telescope for a particular observation. “This technique will greatly expand the amount of time ALMA can effectively study the Universe at higher frequencies”, added Violette Impellizzeri, JAO astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    Another technique involves first observing at very broadband wavelengths and then tuning-in to more narrowband, shorter wavelengths. This technique will soon be routine operating procedure, even though it is unique to ALMA at these wavelengths. Combined, these two techniques open up many more hours of observations at shorter wavelengths than would otherwise be possible

    Teams from around the world are still on their way to ALMA to further verify these techniques and provide the optimal observing strategy for observing with ALMA at high frequencies.

    More Information

    The international commissioning team for the High Frequency Observing Campaign was led by Satoko Takasashi of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, ALMA’s representative East Asia and Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the ALMA Program Scientist for Extension and Optimization of Capabilities. Other members include Catherine Vlahakis, Neil Philips, Denis Barkats, Bill Dent (JAO/ESO), Ed Fomalont, Brian Mason, Jennifer Donovan Meyer (NRAO); Violette Impellizzeri, Paulo Cortes, Christian Lopez (JAO/NRAO); Christine Wilson (NRAO/McMaster University); Seiji Kameno, Tsyuoshi Sawada (JAO/NAOJ); Tim Van Kempen, Luke Maud & Remo Tilanus (Leiden); Robert Lucas (Grenoble); Richard Hills (Cambridge); James Chibueze, Akihiko Hirota (JAO/NAOJ).

    See the full article here.

    The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

    ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

    NRAO Small

    ESO 50

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  • richardmitnick 8:02 am on September 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Radio Astronomy,   

    From SKA: “Upgrade for SKA precursor telescope in Australia” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    On September 4, the first full-size second generation (Mk II) phased array feed (PAF) receiver was installed on an antenna at the Australian SKA site – the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.

    prelim
    The white-coated 2nd generation Phase Array Feed receiver on ASKAP’s antenna 29.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array
    SKA Murchison Widefield Array

    This marked a new milestone in the development of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, one of three SKA precursor telescopes.

    path
    CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope

    PAFs are a new technology being developed at CSIRO equivalent to “radio cameras”, providing a uniquely large field-of-view to image large swaths of the sky at the same time.

    The development of the second generation PAF system builds on many of the lessons learnt with the design, development, construction and testing of the Mk I receiver. Six Mk I PAFs and their associated electronics, were installed on ASKAP antennas in 2013 and are already producing early science results.

    The design of the Mk II now also incorporates novel components and assembly techniques such as the use of marine composites technology in the PAF casing to manage structural loading, thermal insulation, environmental protection and RFI shielding, as well as specially-designed ground planes that ensure a low and stable operating temperature for increased system reliability.

    The installation has quickly followed the recent preliminary ground-based aperture array tests on the Mk II PAF, which yielded promising system temperature results, confirming the overall system design.

    The Mk II PAF is currently installed on ASKAP Antenna 29 — to follow its progress tune in to the live MRO webcam.

    About ASKAP: one of three SKA precursor telescopes, ASKAP is currently being commissioned. It is using 6 antennas (out of a total of 36) in a test array called BETA, which are equipped with the 1st generation PAF receivers.

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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  • richardmitnick 3:49 pm on September 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Pleiades cluster, Radio Astronomy   

    From physicsworld.com: “Pleiades distance debate resolved, say radio astronomers” 

    physicsworld
    physicsworld.com

    Aug 29, 2014
    Tim Wogan

    A long-running debate about the distance to the Pleiades cluster of stars has been resolved, claims a team of radio astronomers in the US. The researchers conclude that the cluster is almost exactly as far away as originally thought. This contradicts analyses of data from the Hipparcos satellite cluster, which suggested that the cluster is 13 parsecs closer than astronomical models predict. The astronomer who made those Hipparcos calculations, however, is standing by the original results, claiming that there are errors and unjustified assumptions in the new research.

    pleides
    Pleiades cluster

    The Pleiades is the star cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky, and has been known since antiquity. In modern astronomy, the distance to the Pleiades is used to calibrate the cosmic-distance ladder, allowing the distances to star clusters and galaxies that are further away to be inferred. For this reason, it is important to know this distance precisely, and multiple calculations of it have been made using various methods.

    ladder

    Light green boxes: Technique applicable to star-forming galaxies.
    Light blue boxes: Technique applicable to Population II galaxies.
    Light Purple boxes: Geometric distance technique.
    Light Red box: The planetary nebula luminosity function technique is applicable to all populations of the Virgo Supercluster.
    Solid black lines: Well calibrated ladder step.
    Dashed black lines: Uncertain calibration ladder step.

    The generally accepted distance was about 134 parsecs (about 437 light-years) until, in 1999, Floor van Leeuwen of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, UK, used data from the European Space Agency’s Hipparcos satellite to produce what was the most precise calculation to date. The result was obtained with trigonometric parallax, using the apparent shift in the position of the target star relative to distant “fixed” stars as the Earth orbits the Sun. This is independent of any stellar models, depending only on the fundamental laws of geometry.

    ESA Hipparcus spacecraft
    ESA/HIPPARCOS

    Controversial analysis

    Van Leeuven arrived at a distance of about 120 parsecs. He refined his analysis in 2009, reaching a similar conclusion. This figure was highly controversial as the potential theoretical implications of such an unexpected discovery were huge, putting into question the amount of helium in the stars making up the Pleiades and even suggesting that hitherto unknown physics governs the early lives of stars.

    In the new research, Carl Melis of the University of California, San Diego and colleagues at several other US institutions did their own trigonometric-parallax measurement of five selected stars in the Pleiades cluster using very long baseline radio interferometry [the radio astronomy resource is not named]. In this technique, measurements are made by linked radio antennas spread across the world, giving the total resolution of a telescope the size of the Earth. The researchers found that the distances of all five stars were in broad agreement with the original figure, with the lowest value being 134.8 parsecs and the highest being 138.4.

    Melis says that, taken together with all the other measurements of the distance to the Pleiades cluster that back current theoretical models, these measurements demonstrate conclusively that the Hipparcos data were erroneous. “We’ve already come to that conclusion,” says Melis. “This is just reiterating it, and really hitting the hammer on the head of the nail and driving it into the coffin.”

    Not convinced

    Van Leeuwen, however, is not convinced. Hipparcos catalogued more than 100,000 stars, including multiple clusters like the Pleiades, and found answers in line with predictions for the others. The distance to the Pleiades was calculated from separate measurements of more than 50 stars, and Van Leeuwen says that, for that distance to be incorrect, Hipparcos would have needed to give wrong answers in these specific measurements. He adds that there is no convincing explanation for how this could have occurred.

    He questions several technical details of the new measurements, such as the fact that the proper motions (the velocities relative to the Sun) of the Pleiades stars vary widely, whereas the proper motions of the stars within a cluster should be almost the same. “As soon as you bring the proper motions in line with each other,” he says, “all the parallaxes will change.” He also says that the Hipparcos figure can be explained. “There is no new physics needed,” he says. “The only thing that’s needed is a re-assessment of the depths of the convection layers in these stars, which have conveniently been assumed to be fixed and constant during the main sequence phase.”
    Waiting on Gaia

    In 2013 ESA launched Gaia, a successor to Hipparcos with much higher specifications, such as higher-sensitivity cameras, that will measure the parallaxes of thousands of stars in the Pleiades cluster. The design principles are conceptually similar, which leads Melis and colleagues to suggest that the unidentified error they believe distorted the Hipparcos measurements of the Pleiades could also affect Gaia. Nevertheless, Melis suspects that “the Gaia measurement is not going to be the same as the Hipparcos measurement…Hopefully then the Hipparcos community is going to have to face the fact that Hipparcos did not produce the correct result.”

    ESA Gaia satellite
    ESA Gaia Camera
    ESA/Gaia and its camera

    The research is published in Science.

    See the full article here.

    PhysicsWorld is a publication of the Institute of Physics. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.

    We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.
    IOP Institute of Physics

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  • richardmitnick 9:07 am on September 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Radio Astronomy,   

    From SKA: “French NenuFAR telescope granted SKA Pathfinder status” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    The SKA Organisation has officially recognised NenuFAR, a French radio telescope, as a Pathfinder Project of the SKA telescope.

    NenuFAR
    NenuFAR

    NenuFAR, which stands for New Extension in Nançay Upgrading LOFAR, is a new low-frequency radio telescope under construction at the Nançay Observatory near Orleans to extend the existing international LOFAR radio telescope, an array of low frequency antennas spread across eight European countries and centred in the Netherlands.

    “With this announcement, NenuFAR is recognised as an instrument concept paving the way for the new science to be done with the SKA”, said Gilles Theureau, Director of the Nançay Observatory. “It’s excellent news for the project, as well as for the Nançay Observatory.”

    The SKA officially has three precursor telescopes, MeerKAT, ASKAP and MWA. Located at SKA sites in South Africa and Western Australia, these precursors are and will be carrying out scientific studies related to future SKA activities, as well as helping the development and testing of new crucial SKA technologies.

    SKA MeerKAT Telescope Array
    MeerKAT

    askap
    ASKAP

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array
    MWA

    Unlike precursors, pathfinder telescopes and systems are dotted around the globe. They include the famous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which starred in the James Bond movie “Goldeneye”, the LOFAR low frequency array, which is based in Europe, and the JVLA, in North America, which was famously seen in the hit movie “Contact”, amongst others. They are also engaged in SKA-related technology and science studies. A full list is available here.

    NenuFAR will not only be an extension of LOFAR but also a stand-alone instrument. As an SKA pathfinder, the feedback from the design, construction and operation of NenuFAR will be used by the SKA Organisation to facilitate the development of the SKA.

    “NenuFAR is a promising instrument and the SKA’s low frequency array will certainly benefit from the development and lessons learnt on this project”, said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation. “We are happy to support the French community’s efforts and look forward to working more closely with our colleagues in France in the near future.”

    “The decision by the SKA Organisation to grant NenuFAR the official status of SKA Pathfinder is an important signal for the French community, recognising our expertise in radioastronomy,” added Denis Mourard, Deputy Director for Science of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers of CNRS.

    Further reactions from French stakeholders following the announcement:

    “This status as SKA Pathfinder will further increase our motivation and efficiency to complete the construction of NenuFAR Phase 1 as scheduled, and to prepare the next phases, thereby contributing to the development of SKA.” Claude Catala, President of the Observatoire de Paris

    “This recognition confirms our hopes to consolidate between Nançay, Orleans and Paris a world-class pole in radioastronomy in the 21st century.” Youssoufi Touré, President of the University of Orleans

    “This is excellent news. It will encourage us to draw from each step of the development of NenuFAR – starting with the completion of its phase 1 – useful lessons for the design and future operation of the SKA. At the same time it will give us a huge boost in seeking support for the following phases to bring NenuFAR to its full potential. It will contribute to unify the french radio community behind both NenuFAR and the SKA.” Michel Tagger and Philippe Zarka, principal investigators of NenuFAR.

    See the full article here.

    SKA Banner

    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

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