CSIRO partners with Korea for 8000km 'virtual' telescope

Radio telescopes combined to offer more power than Hubble

A partnership between Korean astronomers and the CSIRO has created a 'virtual' telescope that is 8000km across. The combined telescopes have 100 times the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The CSIRO used two telescopes near Coonabarabran and Narrabri in NSW and one at the University of Tasmania, while the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute used two telescopes — one in Seoul and the other near Ulsan.

The test included five hours of observation of galaxy J0854+2006, which is located 3.5 billion light years away and is home to two supermassive black holes, with data streamed to Curtin University in Perth and processed in real time at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

The partnership with the two countries came about when visiting Korean astronomers discussed very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations between Australia and Korea.

“VLBI is a technique where you can take multiple telescopes, potentially spread all around the world, and if you record the data in some appropriate way you can then combine the data using various supercomputers and essentially synthesise or make virtual telescopes,” the CSIRO's Dr Chris Phillips told Computerworld Australia.

VLBI enables greater detail and resolution.

“The more detail and the higher resolution the images you can make, the more physics you can try and get out of understanding how these extremely high energy physics processes happen,” Phillips said. "These are not the sort of processes you can do in a lab, so astronomy is the only way of understanding extreme physics

“The jets that we actually looked at in these observations was the radio jet coming out of a supermassive black hole. The real physics that people are interested in is exactly how the emission is coming out of the core of the jet."

The test has confirmed the Australian and Korean systems are compatible and further observations with Korean telescopes are planned, with the data to be made available to astronomers.

The CSIRO has previously run similar tests with Japan and China. Tests are also planned with India, which houses a giant meter metrewave radio telescope (GMRT). However, the CSIRO is waiting for the telescope to be connected to a high speed data network to enable real-time data collection.

CSIRO is also looking to run a multi-country observation with Australia, China, Japan and potentially New Zealand to simultaneously observe the same star or galaxy. Individual telescopes run at a data of 512 megabits per second, with data being sent to one central location.

“Given that all the telescopes are running at high data rates, we need to be sure there is enough bandwidth capabilities of the networks coming in,” Phillips said.

This requires a high aggregate data rate at the central supercomputer. Due to the project being a first for Australia, Phillips said it is unclear yet whether the networks are capable of processing the high data rates required.

Australia and New Zealand are currently bidding to host the Square Kilometre Array, which will be the world’s largest radio telescope.

“If this telescope is in Australia, we will be working hard with the Asian telescopes to also include some of their telescopes into this array as well,” Phillips said.

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