Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Super-Telescope In Europe

Using data from up to 16 radio telescopes in 6 different continents, an incredible amount of data is transferred to a supercomputer located in the Netherlands. There, European researchers combine the aggregate data to create high resolution images of very distant objects in space. 

The data is collected by pointing the 16 Radio Telescopes, located on 6 different continents at a single source in space. By combining the data, a better resolution image is created than any single telescope on earth could deliver.

The size of this virtual telescope is basically the size equal to the maximum separation between the individual telescopes around the globe, in other words the "lens" if one can call it that, may be as big as the distance between two or more continents here on earth. 

The technique used is called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), and now uses a high-speed network to transfer the collective data to the Netherlands in real time. Until recently however, the process of transferring data and generating the images took about two weeks, because the individual telescopes had to make disk-based recordings of a source in space. 

These disk-based recordings were then physically shipped to and processed at the Joint Institute for VLBI Europe, also known as "JIVE", in the Netherlands. 

There are a number of VLBI arrays in Asia, Australia and even North America, but the European VLBI Network (EVN) is by far the most sensitive. 

The EVN correlator is a powerful supercomputer located at the JIVE facility that combines and processes the signals from around the globe in real-time. 

The supercomputer handles data streams of about 6 Gigabits per second during a session, while the EVN telescopes normally delivers the data at a rate of about 1 Gigabit per second.

More info on the project can be found here.


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