Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Radio Astronomers Remove the Blindfold

08.10.2004


UK radio astronomers at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, working with colleagues from Europe and the USA, have demonstrated a new technique that will revolutionise the way they observe. To create the very best quality images of the sky, they routinely combine data from multiple telescopes from around the world - a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). They have now combined this with the power of dedicated internet resources to send data from all the telescopes to a special computer, to combine the observations in real-time (e-VLBI).



In conventional interferometry, far from the traditional image of an astronomer peering through an eyepiece, radio astronomers have to wait weeks or even months to see the results of their work as data tapes are shipped around the world to be combined at a central processing facility.

Prof Phil Diamond, of Jodrell Bank Observatory explains “Previously, we’ve been working in the dark, collecting data that we can’t see in its entirety until painfully long weeks later. Now using e-VLBI, we have removed that blindfold; we can process the observations taken at a number of locations around the world at once, in real time. In future, this technique will allow us to take much better images than previously possible, revealing in much greater detail the Universe around us.”


e-VLBI uses new dedicated internet infrastructures (called research networks) in the participating countries, so that data from all the telescopes can be relayed rapidly to a centre in the Netherlands where the data are combined and sent back to the astronomers, who then produce the images. These new observations give an exciting glimpse of the future of radio astronomy. Using research networks, not only will radio astronomers be able to see deeper into the distant Universe, they’ll be able to capture unpredictable, transient events as they happen, reliably and quickly.

The star chosen for this remarkable demonstration, called IRC+10420, is one of the most unusual in the sky. Surrounded by clouds of dusty gas and emitting strongly in radio waves, the object is poised at the end of its life, heading toward a cataclysmic explosion known as a ’supernova’.

Although the scientific goals of the experiment were modest, these e-VLBI observations of IRC+10420 open up the possibility of watching the structures of astrophysical objects as they change. IRC+10420 is a supergiant star in the constellation of Aquila. It has a mass about 10 times that of our own Sun and lies about 15,000 light years from Earth.

One of the brightest infrared sources in the sky, it is surrounded by a thick shell of dust and gas thrown out from the surface of the star at a rate of about 200 times the mass of the Earth every year. Radio astronomers are able to image the dust and gas surrounding IRC+10420 because one of the component molecules, hydroxyl (OH), reveals itself by means of strong ’maser’ emission. Essentially, the astronomers see clumps of gas where radio emission is strongly amplified by special conditions.

With the zoom lens provided by e-VLBI, astronomers can make images with great detail and watch the clumps of gas move, watch masers being born and die on timescales of weeks to months, and study the changing magnetic fields that permeate the shell. The results show that the gas is moving at about 40 km/s and was ejected from the star about 900 years ago. As Prof. Phil Diamond explained, "The material we’re seeing in this image left the surface of the star at around the time of the Norman Conquest of England".

It is believed IRC+10420 is rapidly evolving toward the end of its life. At some point, maybe thousands of years from now, maybe tomorrow, the star is expected to blow itself apart in one of the most energetic phenomena known in the Universe - a ’supernova’. The resulting cloud of material will eventually form a new generation of stars and planetary systems. Radio astronomers are now poised, with the incredible power of e-VLBI, to catch the details as they happen and study the physical processes that are so important to the structure of our Galaxy and to life itself.

Julia Maddock | alfa
Further information:
http://www.pparc.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Pulses of electrons manipulate nanomagnets and store information
21.07.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion
21.07.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>