GÉANT2 Network Enables Global Real-Time Radio-Astronomy Project

To celebrate the beginning of the International Year of Astronomy, 17 telescopes from around the world are taking part in a 33 hour real-time astronomical observation starting on 15 January 2009. This will enable astronomers to simultaneously observe areas of space through multiple telescopes, providing more detailed images of the universe than previously obtained. GÉANT2, the high bandwidth, pan-European research network managed by research networking organisation DANTE, is at the heart of this collaboration, connecting with other research data networks across the globe, under the coordination of the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE).

Telescopes in the UK, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, US, Chile, Puerto Rico, Australia, China and Japan are taking part in the observation. The telescopes are observing three quasars J0204+1514, 0234+285 and 3C395, switching between the three to accommodate different frequency observing capabilities of the participating telescopes and streaming the data in real-time to JIVE.

The observation is being demonstrated live at the opening event of the International Year of Astronomy which is being held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 15/16 January 2009.

Through a technique called real-time, electronic Very Long Baseline Interferometry (e-VLBI), astronomers use multiple radio telescopes to simultaneously observe the same region of sky. Data collected by each telescope is sampled and sent to a central processor via high-speed communication networks. This central data processor, a purpose-built supercomputer, decodes, aligns and correlates the data for all possible pairs of telescopes. This results in the generation of images of cosmic radio sources with up to 100 times better resolution than images from the best optical telescopes.

EXPReS, a three-year project funded by the European Commission, uses data networks to link the telescopes and send the data electronically and correlate it in real-time. This eliminates the shipping of disks and provides astronomers with correlated data in a timely fashion, allowing them to exploit short-lived astronomical events such as supernovae and gamma ray bursts.

As well as GÉANT2 network, the observation is using the following data networks – APAN, AARNet, AMPATH, AtlanticWave, CANARIE, CENIC, Centennial, CSTNET, DFN, FUNET, GARR, Internet2, JANET, JGN2plus, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Netherlight, NGIX, NORDUnet, PIONIER, RedCLARA, REUNA, Southern Cross Cables Network, StarLight, SUNET, SURFnet and TransPAC2.

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