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Jodrell Bank creates telescope the size of Earth

John Nuttall on a plan to combine the power of the world's telescopes

Published on January 15th 2009.

Jodrell Bank creates telescope the size of Earth

This week the University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy will be using its famous Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank to collaborate with 15 other telescopes around the world to form an Earth-sized radio telescope.

On 15 and 16 January this huge device will observe three quasars (distant galaxies powered by super-massive black holes at their cores) as part of a demonstration at the opening event for the International Year of Astronomy.

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, or e-VLBI, participating telescopes will observe the same object simultaneously. Data from each telescope will be streamed across the globe through high-speed optical networks to a purpose-built supercomputer at JIVE in the Netherlands. This machine acts 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.”

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."

The project sees telescopes from a dozen countries sharing data via high speed networks in several continents.

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Mark Garner, The PublisherJanuary 15th 2009.

Can we get a copy of the pictures and place them online for our readers?

hows your fatherJanuary 15th 2009.

That's amazing- I would love to see the pictures.Although I fear the curtains will most definately be drawn that evening.

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