Radio astronomy

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The Very Large Array, a radio interferometer in New Mexico, United States USA.NM.VeryLargeArray.02.jpg
The Very Large Array, a radio interferometer in New Mexico, United States

Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The first detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was in 1932, when Karl Jansky at Bell Telephone Laboratories observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of different sources of radio emission. These include stars and galaxies, as well as entirely new classes of objects, such as radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, and masers. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, regarded as evidence for the Big Bang theory, was made through radio astronomy.

Astronomy natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Astronomical object physical body of astronomically-significant size,mass,or role,naturally occurring in a universe;single,tightly bound contiguous entity (while an astronomical/celestial object is a complex,less cohesively bound structure,may consist of multiple bodies

An astronomical object or celestial object is a naturally occurring physical entity, association, or structures that exists in the observable universe. In astronomy, the terms object and body are often used interchangeably. However, an astronomical body or celestial body is a single, tightly bound, contiguous entity, while an astronomical or celestial object is a complex, less cohesively bound structure, which may consist of multiple bodies or even other objects with substructures.

Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.


Radio astronomy is conducted using large radio antennas referred to as radio telescopes, that are either used singularly, or with multiple linked telescopes utilizing the techniques of radio interferometry and aperture synthesis. The use of interferometry allows radio astronomy to achieve high angular resolution, as the resolving power of an interferometer is set by the distance between its components, rather than the size of its components.

Antenna (radio) electrical device which converts electric power into radio waves, and vice versa

In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.

Radio telescope form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy

A radio telescope is a specialized antenna and radio receiver used to receive radio waves from astronomical radio sources in the sky in radio astronomy. Radio telescopes are the main observing instrument used in radio astronomy, which studies the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by astronomical objects, just as optical telescopes are the main observing instrument used in traditional optical astronomy which studies the light wave portion of the spectrum coming from astronomical objects. Radio telescopes are typically large parabolic ("dish") antennas similar to those employed in tracking and communicating with satellites and space probes. They may be used singly or linked together electronically in an array. Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can be used in the daytime as well as at night. Since astronomical radio sources such as planets, stars, nebulas and galaxies are very far away, the radio waves coming from them are extremely weak, so radio telescopes require very large antennas to collect enough radio energy to study them, and extremely sensitive receiving equipment. Radio observatories are preferentially located far from major centers of population to avoid electromagnetic interference (EMI) from radio, television, radar, motor vehicles, and other manmade electronic devices.

Astronomical interferometer array of separate telescopes, mirror segments, or radio telescope antennas that work together as a single telescope

An astronomical interferometer is an array of separate telescopes, mirror segments, or radio telescope antennas that work together as a single telescope to provide higher resolution images of astronomical objects such as stars, nebulas and galaxies by means of interferometry. The advantage of this technique is that it can theoretically produce images with the angular resolution of a huge telescope with an aperture equal to the separation between the component telescopes. The main drawback is that it does not collect as much light as the complete instrument's mirror. Thus it is mainly useful for fine resolution of more luminous astronomical objects, such as close binary stars. Another drawback is that the maximum angular size of a detectable emission source is limited by the minimum gap between detectors in the collector array.


Chart on which Jocelyn Bell Burnell first recognised evidence of a pulsar, in 1967 (exhibited at Cambridge University Library) Chart Showing Radio Signal of First Identified Pulsar.jpg
Chart on which Jocelyn Bell Burnell first recognised evidence of a pulsar, in 1967 (exhibited at Cambridge University Library)

Before Jansky observed the Milky Way in the 1930s, physicists speculated that radio waves could be observed from astronomical sources. In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell's equations had shown that electromagnetic radiation is associated with electricity and magnetism, and could exist at any wavelength. Several attempts were made to detect radio emission from the Sun including an experiment by German astrophysicists Johannes Wilsing and Julius Scheiner in 1896 and a centimeter wave radiation apparatus set up by Oliver Lodge between 1897 and 1900. These attempts were unable to detect any emission due to technical limitations of the instruments. The discovery of the radio reflecting ionosphere in 1902, led physicists to conclude that the layer would bounce any astronomical radio transmission back into space, making them undetectable. [1]

James Clerk Maxwell Scottish physicist

James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics" after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.

Maxwells equations set of partial differential equations that describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and altered by each other and by charges and currents

Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. The equations provide a mathematical model for electric, optical, and radio technologies, such as power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, lenses, radar etc. Maxwell's equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated by charges, currents, and changes of the fields. One important consequence of the equations is that they demonstrate how fluctuating electric and magnetic fields propagate at the speed of light. Known as electromagnetic radiation, these waves may occur at various wavelengths to produce a spectrum from radio waves to γ-rays. The equations are named after the physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who between 1861 and 1862 published an early form of the equations that included the Lorentz force law. He also first used the equations to propose that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon.

Electromagnetic radiation form of energy emitted and absorbed by charged particles, which exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space

In physics, electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible) light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.

Karl Jansky made the discovery of the first astronomical radio source serendipitously in the early 1930s. As an engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories, he was investigating static that interfered with short wave transatlantic voice transmissions. Using a large directional antenna, Jansky noticed that his analog pen-and-paper recording system kept recording a repeating signal of unknown origin. Since the signal peaked about every 24 hours, Jansky originally suspected the source of the interference was the Sun crossing the view of his directional antenna. Continued analysis showed that the source was not following the 24-hour daily cycle of the Sun exactly, but instead repeating on a cycle of 23 hours and 56 minutes. Jansky discussed the puzzling phenomena with his friend, astrophysicist and teacher Albert Melvin Skellett, who pointed out that the time between the signal peaks was the exact length of a sidereal day; the time it took for "fixed" astronomical objects, such as a star, to pass in front of the antenna every time the Earth rotated. [2] By comparing his observations with optical astronomical maps, Jansky eventually concluded that the radiation source peaked when his antenna was aimed at the densest part of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius. [3] He concluded that since the Sun (and therefore other stars) were not large emitters of radio noise, the strange radio interference may be generated by interstellar gas and dust in the galaxy. [2] (Jansky's peak radio source, one of the brightest in the sky, was designated Sagittarius A in the 1950s and, instead of being galactic "gas and dust", was later hypothesized to be emitted by electrons in a strong magnetic field. Current thinking is that these are ions in orbit around a massive Black hole at the center of the galaxy at a point now designated as Sagitarius A*. The asterisk indicates that the particles at Sagitarius A are ionized.) [4] [5] [6] [7] Jansky announced his discovery in 1933. He wanted to investigate the radio waves from the Milky Way in further detail, but Bell Labs reassigned him to another project, so he did no further work in the field of astronomy. His pioneering efforts in the field of radio astronomy have been recognized by the naming of the fundamental unit of flux density, the jansky (Jy), after him.

Serendipity means an unplanned, fortunate discovery. Serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of product invention and scientific discovery. In recent years, the phenomenon has become a potential design principle in online activity for preventing filter bubbles and echo chambers.

Bell Labs research and scientific development company

Nokia Bell Labs is an industrial research and scientific development company owned by Finnish company Nokia. Its headquarters are located in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Other laboratories are located around the world. Bell Labs has its origins in the complex past of the Bell System.

Directional antenna

A directional antenna or beam antenna is an antenna which radiates or receives greater power in specific directions allowing increased performance and reduced interference from unwanted sources. Directional antennas provide increased performance over dipole antennas—or omnidirectional antennas in general—when greater concentration of radiation in a certain direction is desired.

Grote Reber was inspired by Jansky's work, and built a parabolic radio telescope 9m in diameter in his backyard in 1937. He began by repeating Jansky's observations, and then conducted the first sky survey in the radio frequencies. [8] On February 27, 1942, James Stanley Hey, a British Army research officer, made the first detection of radio waves emitted by the Sun. [9] Later that year George Clark Southworth, [10] at Bell Labs like Jansky, also detected radiowaves from the sun. Both researchers were bound by wartime security surrounding radar, so Reber, who was not, published his 1944 findings first. [11] Several other people independently discovered solar radiowaves, including E. Schott in Denmark [12] and Elizabeth Alexander working on Norfolk Island. [13] [14] [15] [16]

Grote Reber American astronomer

Grote Reber was a pioneer of radio astronomy, which combined his interests in amateur radio and amateur astronomy. He was instrumental in investigating and extending Karl Jansky's pioneering work, and conducted the first sky survey in the radio frequencies.

James Stanley Hey FRS was an English physicist and radio astronomer. With the targeted application of radar technology for astronomical research, he laid the basis for the development of radio astronomy. He discovered that the Sun radiates radio waves and localized for the first time an extragalactic radio source in the constellation Cygnus.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, United States is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. GBT.png
The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, United States is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.

At Cambridge University, where ionospheric research had taken place during World War II, J.A. Ratcliffe along with other members of the Telecommunications Research Establishment that had carried out wartime research into radar, created a radiophysics group at the university where radio wave emissions from the Sun were observed and studied.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Telecommunications Research Establishment

The Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) was the main United Kingdom research and development organization for radio navigation, radar, infra-red detection for heat seeking missiles, and related work for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II and the years that followed. The name was changed to Radar Research Establishment in 1953. This article covers the precursor organizations and the Telecommunications Research Establishment up to the time of the name change. The later work at the site is described in the separate article about RRE.

Radar object detection system based on radio waves

Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.

This early research soon branched out into the observation of other celestial radio sources and interferometry techniques were pioneered to isolate the angular source of the detected emissions. Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish at the Cavendish Astrophysics Group developed the technique of Earth-rotation aperture synthesis. The radio astronomy group in Cambridge went on to found the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory near Cambridge in the 1950s. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, as computers (such as the Titan) became capable of handling the computationally intensive Fourier transform inversions required, they used aperture synthesis to create a 'One-Mile' and later a '5 km' effective aperture using the One-Mile and Ryle telescopes, respectively. They used the Cambridge Interferometer to map the radio sky, producing the famous 2C and 3C surveys of radio sources. [17]


First 7-metre ESO/NAOJ/NRAO ALMA Antenna. First 7-metre ALMA Antenna.jpg
First 7-metre ESO/NAOJ/NRAO ALMA Antenna.

Radio astronomers use different techniques to observe objects in the radio spectrum. Instruments may simply be pointed at an energetic radio source to analyze its emission. To "image" a region of the sky in more detail, multiple overlapping scans can be recorded and pieced together in a mosaic image. The type of instrument used depends on the strength of the signal and the amount of detail needed.

Observations from the Earth's surface are limited to wavelengths that can pass through the atmosphere. At low frequencies, or long wavelengths, transmission is limited by the ionosphere, which reflects waves with frequencies less than its characteristic plasma frequency. Water vapor interferes with radio astronomy at higher frequencies, which has led to building radio observatories that conduct observations at millimeter wavelengths at very high and dry sites, in order to minimize the water vapor content in the line of sight. Finally, transmitting devices on earth may cause radio-frequency interference. Because of this, many radio observatories are built at remote places.

Radio telescopes

M87 optical image.jpg
An optical image of the galaxy M87 (HST), a radio image of same galaxy using Interferometry (Very Large Array - VLA), and an image of the center section (VLBA) using a Very Long Baseline Array (Global VLBI) consisting of antennas in the US, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden and Spain. The jet of particles is suspected to be powered by a black hole in the center of the galaxy. M87 VLA VLBA radio astronomy.jpg
An optical image of the galaxy M87 (HST), a radio image of same galaxy using Interferometry (Very Large ArrayVLA), and an image of the center section (VLBA) using a Very Long Baseline Array (Global VLBI) consisting of antennas in the US, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden and Spain. The jet of particles is suspected to be powered by a black hole in the center of the galaxy.

Radio telescopes may need to be extremely large in order to receive signals with high signal-to-noise ratio. Also since angular resolution is a function of the diameter of the "objective" in proportion to the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation being observed, radio telescopes have to be much larger in comparison to their optical counterparts. For example, a 1-meter diameter optical telescope is two million times bigger than the wavelength of light observed giving it a resolution of roughly 0.3 arc seconds, whereas a radio telescope "dish" many times that size may, depending on the wavelength observed, only be able to resolve an object the size of the full moon (30 minutes of arc).

Radio interferometry

The difficulty in achieving high resolutions with single radio telescopes led to radio interferometry, developed by British radio astronomer Martin Ryle and Australian engineer, radiophysicist, and radio astronomer Joseph Lade Pawsey and Ruby Payne-Scott in 1946. Surprisingly the first use of a radio interferometer for an astronomical observation was carried out by Payne-Scott, Pawsey and Lindsay McCready on 26 January 1946 using a SINGLE converted radar antenna (broadside array) at 200 MHz near Sydney, Australia. This group used the principle of a sea-cliff interferometer in which the antenna (formerly a World War II radar) observed the sun at sunrise with interference arising from the direct radiation from the sun and the reflected radiation from the sea. With this baseline of almost 200 meters, the authors determined that the solar radiation during the burst phase was much smaller than the solar disk and arose from a region associated with a large sunspot group. The Australia group laid out the principles of aperture synthesis in a ground-breaking paper published in 1947. The use of a sea-cliff interferometer had been demonstrated by numerous groups in Australia, Iran and the UK during World War II, who had observed interference fringes (the direct radar return radiation and the reflected signal from the sea) from incoming aircraft.

The Cambridge group of Ryle and Vonberg observed the sun at 175 MHz for the first time in mid July 1946 with a Michelson interferometer consisting of two radio antennas with spacings of some tens of meters up to 240 meters. They showed that the radio radiation was smaller than 10 arc minutes in size and also detected circular polarization in the Type I bursts. Two other groups had also detected circular polarization at about the same time (David Martyn in Australia and Edward Appleton with James Stanley Hey in the UK).

Modern Radio interferometers consist of widely separated radio telescopes observing the same object that are connected together using coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. This not only increases the total signal collected, it can also be used in a process called Aperture synthesis to vastly increase resolution. This technique works by superposing ("interfering") the signal waves from the different telescopes on the principle that waves that coincide with the same phase will add to each other while two waves that have opposite phases will cancel each other out. This creates a combined telescope that is the size of the antennas furthest apart in the array. In order to produce a high quality image, a large number of different separations between different telescopes are required (the projected separation between any two telescopes as seen from the radio source is called a "baseline") – as many different baselines as possible are required in order to get a good quality image. For example, the Very Large Array has 27 telescopes giving 351 independent baselines at once.

Very-long-baseline interferometry

The Mount Pleasant Radio Telescope is the southern most antenna used in Australia's VLBI network Mt Pleasant radio telescope night.jpg
The Mount Pleasant Radio Telescope is the southern most antenna used in Australia's VLBI network

Beginning in the 1970s, improvements in the stability of radio telescope receivers permitted telescopes from all over the world (and even in Earth orbit) to be combined to perform very-long-baseline interferometry. Instead of physically connecting the antennas, data received at each antenna is paired with timing information, usually from a local atomic clock, and then stored for later analysis on magnetic tape or hard disk. At that later time, the data is correlated with data from other antennas similarly recorded, to produce the resulting image. Using this method it is possible to synthesise an antenna that is effectively the size of the Earth. The large distances between the telescopes enable very high angular resolutions to be achieved, much greater in fact than in any other field of astronomy. At the highest frequencies, synthesised beams less than 1 milliarcsecond are possible.

The pre-eminent VLBI arrays operating today are the Very Long Baseline Array (with telescopes located across North America) and the European VLBI Network (telescopes in Europe, China, South Africa and Puerto Rico). Each array usually operates separately, but occasional projects are observed together producing increased sensitivity. This is referred to as Global VLBI. There are also a VLBI networks, operating in Australia and New Zealand called the LBA (Long Baseline Array), [19] and arrays in Japan, China and South Korea which observe together to form the East-Asian VLBI Network (EAVN). [20]

Since its inception, recording data onto hard media was the only way to bring the data recorded at each telescope together for later correlation. However, the availability today of worldwide, high-bandwidth networks makes it possible to do VLBI in real time. This technique (referred to as e-VLBI) was originally pioneered in Japan, and more recently adopted in Australia and in Europe by the EVN (European VLBI Network) who perform an increasing number of scientific e-VLBI projects per year. [21]

Astronomical sources

A radio image of the central region of the Milky Way galaxy. The arrow indicates a supernova remnant which is the location of a newly discovered transient, bursting low-frequency radio source GCRT J1745-3009. GCRT J1745-3009 2.jpg
A radio image of the central region of the Milky Way galaxy. The arrow indicates a supernova remnant which is the location of a newly discovered transient, bursting low-frequency radio source GCRT J1745-3009.

Radio astronomy has led to substantial increases in astronomical knowledge, particularly with the discovery of several classes of new objects, including pulsars, quasars [22] and radio galaxies. This is because radio astronomy allows us to see things that are not detectable in optical astronomy. Such objects represent some of the most extreme and energetic physical processes in the universe.

The cosmic microwave background radiation was also first detected using radio telescopes. However, radio telescopes have also been used to investigate objects much closer to home, including observations of the Sun and solar activity, and radar mapping of the planets.

Other sources include:

International regulation

Antenna 100 m of the Radio telescope Effelsberg, Germany Effelsberg total2.jpg
Antenna 100 m of the Radio telescope Effelsberg, Germany
Antenna 70 m of the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, California Goldstone DSN antenna.jpg
Antenna 70 m of the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, California
Antenna 110m of the Green Bank radio telescope, USA Green Bank Telescope.jpg
Antenna 110m of the Green Bank radio telescope, USA
Jupiter radio-bursts

Radio astronomy service (also: radio astronomy radiocommunication service) is, according to Article 1.58 of the International Telecommunication Union´s (ITU) Radio Regulations (RR), [24] defined as "A radiocommunication service involving the use of radio astronomy". Subject of this radiocommunication service is to receive radio waves transmitted by astronomical or celestial objects.

Frequency allocation

The allocation of radio frequencies is provided according to Article 5 of the ITU Radio Regulations (edition 2012). [25]

In order to improve harmonisation in spectrum utilisation, the majority of service-allocations stipulated in this document were incorporated in national Tables of Frequency Allocations and Utilisations which is with-in the responsibility of the appropriate national administration. The allocation might be primary, secondary, exclusive, and shared.

In line to the appropriate ITU Region the frequency bands are allocated (primary or secondary) to the radio astronomy service as follows.

Allocation to services
     Region 1          Region 2          Region 3     
13 360–13 410 kHz  FIXED
25 550–25 650         RADIO ASTRONOMY
37.5–38.25 MHz  FIXED
Radio astronomy
322–328.6    FIXED
406.1–410    FIXED
MOBILE except aeronautical mobile
1 400–1 427   EARTH EXPLORATION-SATELLITE (passive)
1 610.6–1 613.8





1 610.6–1 613.8






SATELLITE (Earth-to-space)
1 610.6–1 613.8






satellite (Earth-to-space)
10.6–10.68 GHz RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
10.68–10.7          RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
14.47–14.5          RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
15.35–15.4          RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
22.21–22.5          RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
23.6–24              RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
31.3–31.5           RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services

See also

Related Research Articles

Infrared astronomy observational astronomy of emissions over the wavelength band 0.75 to 300 micrometers

Infrared astronomy is the branch of astronomy and astrophysics that studies astronomical objects visible in infrared (IR) radiation. The wavelength of infrared light ranges from 0.75 to 300 micrometers. Infrared falls in between visible radiation, which ranges from 380 to 750 nanometers, and submillimeter waves.

Karl Guthe Jansky American astronomer

Karl Guthe Jansky was an American physicist and radio engineer who in August 1931 first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way. He is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy.

Very-long-baseline interferometry type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy

Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. In VLBI a signal from an astronomical radio source, such as a quasar, is collected at multiple radio telescopes on Earth. The distance between the radio telescopes is then calculated using the time difference between the arrivals of the radio signal at different telescopes. This allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many radio telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.

Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is a centimeter-wavelength radio astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, ~40 miles (64 km) west of Socorro. The VLA comprises twenty-seven 25-meter radio telescopes deployed in a Y-shaped array and all the equipment, instrumentation, and computing power to function as an interferometer. Each of the massive telescopes is mounted on double parallel railroad tracks, so the radius and density of the array can be transformed to adjust the balance between its angular resolution and its surface brightness sensitivity. Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way's center, probed the Universe's cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.

Observational astronomy part of astronomical science concerned with recording data

Observational astronomy is a division of astronomy that is concerned with recording data about the observable universe, in contrast with theoretical astronomy, which is mainly concerned with calculating the measurable implications of physical models. It is the practice and study of observing celestial objects with the use of telescopes and other astronomical instruments.

Very Long Baseline Array

The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a system of ten radio telescopes which are operated remotely from their Array Operations Center located in Socorro, New Mexico, as a part of the Long Baseline Observatory (LBO). These ten radio antennas work together as an array that forms the longest system in the world that uses very long baseline interferometry. The longest baseline available in this interferometer is about 8,611 kilometres (5,351 mi).

Aperture synthesis or synthesis imaging is a type of interferometry that mixes signals from a collection of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the size of the entire collection. At each separation and orientation, the lobe-pattern of the interferometer produces an output which is one component of the Fourier transform of the spatial distribution of the brightness of the observed object. The image of the source is produced from these measurements. Astronomical interferometers are commonly used for high-resolution optical, infrared, submillimetre and radio astronomy observations.

Onsala Space Observatory astronomical observatory in Onsala, Sweden

Onsala Space Observatory (OSO), the Swedish National Facility for Radio Astronomy, provides scientists with equipment to study the Earth and the rest of the Universe. The observatory operates two radio telescopes in Onsala, 45 km south of Gothenburg, and takes part in several international projects. Examples of activities:

Submillimeter Array Array of radio telescopes in Hawaii

The Submillimeter Array (SMA) consists of eight 6-meter (20 ft) diameter radio telescopes arranged as an interferometer for submillimeter wavelength observations. It is the first purpose-built submillimeter interferometer, constructed after successful interferometry experiments using the pre-existing 15-meter (49 ft) James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and 10.4-meter (34.1 ft) Caltech Submillimeter Observatory as an interferometer. All three of these observatories are located at Mauna Kea Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and can be operated together as a ten element interferometer in the 230 and 345 GHz bands. The baseline lengths presently in use range from 16 to 508 meters, and up to 783 meters (2,569 ft) for eSMA operations. The radio frequencies accessible to this telescope range from 180–418 gigahertz (1.666–0.717 mm) which includes rotational transitions of dozens of molecular species as well as continuum emission from interstellar dust grains. Although the array is capable of operating both day and night, most of the observations take place at nighttime when the atmospheric phase stability is best.

Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope

The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) is an aperture synthesis interferometer near World War II Nazi detention and transit camp Westerbork, north of the village of Westerbork, Midden-Drenthe, in the northeastern Netherlands. It consists of a linear array of 14 antennas with a diameter of 25 metres arranged on a 2.7 km East-West line. It has a similar arrangement to other radio telescopes such as the One-Mile Telescope, Australia Telescope Compact Array and the Ryle Telescope. Its Equatorial mount is what sets it apart from most other radio telescopes, most of which have an Altazimuth mount. This makes it specifically useful for specific types of science, like polarized emission research as the detectors maintain a constant orientation on the sky during an observation. Ten of the telescopes are on fixed mountings while the remaining four dishes are movable along two rail tracks. The telescope was completed in 1970 and underwent a major upgrade between 1995-2000.

Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) was an astronomical instrument comprising 23 radio telescopes. These telescopes formed an astronomical interferometer where all the signals are combined in a purpose-built computer to produce high-resolution astronomical images. The telescopes ceased operation in April 2015 and were relocated to the Owens Valley Radio Observatory for storage.

Submillimetre astronomy

Submillimetre astronomy or submillimeter astronomy is the branch of observational astronomy that is conducted at submillimetre wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Astronomers place the submillimetre waveband between the far-infrared and microwave wavebands, typically taken to be between a few hundred micrometres and a millimetre. It is still common in submillimetre astronomy to quote wavelengths in 'microns', the old name for micrometre.

Toruń Centre for Astronomy observatory

The Toruń Centre for Astronomy is an optical and radio observatory located at in Piwnice, about 15 km north of Toruń, Poland. It houses two single-dish antenna telescopes, 32 metres and 15 metres in diameter, as well as the largest Polish optical telescope – 90 cm Schmidt-Cassegrain camera. The facility is operated by the Nicolaus Copernicus University. Also, photometry using 60 cm Cassegrain telescope is made and radio measurements of the Sun at 127 MHz frequency have been recorded on a daily basis since 1958 using a 23 m interferometer.

Telescope Optical instrument that makes distant objects appear magnified

Telescopes are optical instruments that make distant objects appear magnified by using an arrangement of lenses or curved mirrors and lenses, or various devices used to observe distant objects by their emission, absorption, or reflection of electromagnetic radiation. The first known practical telescopes were refracting telescopes invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century, by using glass lenses. They found use in both terrestrial applications and astronomy.

In optical astronomy, interferometry is used to combine signals from two or more telescopes to obtain measurements with higher resolution than could be obtained with either telescopes individually. This technique is the basis for astronomical interferometer arrays, which can make measurements of very small astronomical objects if the telescopes are spread out over a wide area. If a large number of telescopes are used a picture can be produced which has resolution similar to a single telescope with the diameter of the combined spread of telescopes. These include radio telescope arrays such as VLA, VLBI, SMA, LOFAR and SKA, and more recently astronomical optical interferometer arrays such as COAST, NPOI and IOTA, resulting in the highest resolution optical images ever achieved in astronomy. The VLT Interferometer is expected to produce its first images using aperture synthesis soon, followed by other interferometers such as the CHARA array and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer which may consist of up to 10 optical telescopes. If outrigger telescopes are built at the Keck Interferometer, it will also become capable of interferometric imaging.

Govind Swarup is a radio astronomer and one of the pioneers of radio astronomy. He is known not only for his many important research contributions in several areas of astronomy and astrophysics, but also for his outstanding achievements in building ingenious, innovative and powerful observational facilities for front-line research in radio astronomy. He has been the key scientist behind concept, design and installation of the Ooty Radio Telescope (India) and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune. Under his leadership, a strong group in radio astrophysics has been built at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research that is comparable to the best in the world.

Large Latin American Millimeter Array

The Large Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA) is a single-dish 12 m Nasmyth optics antenna with VLBI capability which is under construction in the Puna de Atacama desert in the Province of Salta, Argentina. The primary mirror accuracy will allow observation from 40 GHz up to 900 GHz. It is also planned to install a bolometer camera at millimeter wavelengths. After installation it will be able to join other similar instruments to perform Very Large Base Line Interferometry or to work in standalone mode. Financial support is provided by the Argentinian government through its Science Ministry, and from Brazil through a FAPESP grant. The total cost of construction, around US$20 million, and operation as well as the telescope time use will be shared equally by the two countries. Construction planning started in July 2014 after the formal signature of an agreement between the main institutions involved.


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Further reading