Radio telescope

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The 64-meter radio telescope at Parkes Observatory as seen in 1969, when it was used to receive live televised footage from Apollo 11 CSIRO ScienceImage 4350 CSIROs Parkes Radio Telescope with moon in the background.jpg
The 64-meter radio telescope at Parkes Observatory as seen in 1969, when it was used to receive live televised footage from Apollo 11
Antenna of UTR-2 low frequency radio telescope, Kharkiv region, Ukraine. Consists of an array of 2040 cage dipole elements. UTR-2 - P3094042 (wiki).jpg
Antenna of UTR-2 low frequency radio telescope, Kharkiv region, Ukraine. Consists of an array of 2040 cage dipole elements.

A radio telescope is a specialized antenna and radio receiver used to receive radio waves from astronomical radio sources in the sky. [1] [2] [3] 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 man-made electronic devices.

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Radio waves from space were first detected by engineer Karl Guthe Jansky in 1932 at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey using an antenna built to study noise in radio receivers. The first purpose-built radio telescope was a 9-meter parabolic dish constructed by radio amateur Grote Reber in his back yard in Wheaton, Illinois in 1937. The sky survey he did with it is often considered the beginning of the field of radio astronomy.

Early radio telescopes

Full-size replica of the first radio telescope, Jansky's dipole array, preserved at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. Janksy Karl radio telescope.jpg
Full-size replica of the first radio telescope, Jansky's dipole array, preserved at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.
Reber's first "dish" radio telescope - Wheaton, IL 1937 Grote Antenna Wheaton.gif
Reber's first "dish" radio telescope – Wheaton, IL 1937

The first radio antenna used to identify an astronomical radio source was one built by Karl Guthe Jansky, an engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories, in 1932. Jansky was assigned the job of identifying sources of static that might interfere with radio telephone service. Jansky's antenna was an array of dipoles and reflectors designed to receive short wave radio signals at a frequency of 20.5 MHz (wavelength about 14.6 meters). It was mounted on a turntable that allowed it to rotate in any direction, earning it the name "Jansky's merry-go-round". It had a diameter of approximately 100 ft (30 m) and stood 20 ft (6 m) tall. By rotating the antenna, the direction of the received interfering radio source (static) could be pinpointed. A small shed to the side of the antenna housed an analog pen-and-paper recording system. After recording signals from all directions for several months, Jansky eventually categorized them into three types of static: nearby thunderstorms, distant thunderstorms, and a faint steady hiss of unknown origin. Jansky finally determined that the "faint hiss" repeated on a cycle of 23 hours and 56 minutes. This period is the length of an astronomical sidereal day, the time it takes any "fixed" object located on the celestial sphere to come back to the same location in the sky. Thus Jansky suspected that the hiss originated outside of the Solar System, and by comparing his observations with optical astronomical maps, Jansky concluded that the radiation was coming from the Milky Way Galaxy and was strongest in the direction of the center of the galaxy, in the constellation of Sagittarius.

An amateur radio operator, Grote Reber, was one of the pioneers of what became known as radio astronomy. He built the first parabolic "dish" radio telescope, 9 metres (30 ft) in diameter, in his back yard in Wheaton, Illinois in 1937. He repeated Jansky's pioneering work, identifying the Milky Way as the first off-world radio source, and he went on to conduct the first sky survey at very high radio frequencies, discovering other radio sources. The rapid development of radar during World War II created technology which was applied to radio astronomy after the war, and radio astronomy became a branch of astronomy, with universities and research institutes constructing large radio telescopes. [4]

Types

The range of frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum that makes up the radio spectrum is very large. This means that the types of antennas that are used as radio telescopes vary widely in design, size, and configuration. At wavelengths of 30 meters to 3 meters (10–100 MHz). They are generally either directional antenna arrays similar to "TV antennas" or large stationary reflectors with moveable focal points. Since the wavelengths being observed with these types of antennas are so long, the "reflector" surfaces can be constructed from coarse wire mesh such as chicken wire. [5] [6] At shorter wavelengths parabolic "dish" antennas predominate. The angular resolution of a dish antenna is determined by the ratio of the diameter of the dish to the wavelength of the radio waves being observed. This dictates the dish size a radio telescope needs for a useful resolution. Radio telescopes that operate at wavelengths of 3 meters to 30 cm (100 MHz to 1 GHz) are usually well over 100 meters in diameter. Telescopes working at wavelengths shorter than 30 cm (above 1 GHz) range in size from 3 to 90 meters in diameter.[ citation needed ]

Frequencies

The increasing use of radio frequencies for communication makes astronomical observations more and more difficult (see Open spectrum). Negotiations to defend the frequency allocation for parts of the spectrum most useful for observing the universe are coordinated in the Scientific Committee on Frequency Allocations for Radio Astronomy and Space Science.

Plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. Atmospheric electromagnetic opacity.svg
Plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

Some of the more notable frequency bands used by radio telescopes include:

Big dishes

The world's largest filled-aperture (i.e. full dish) radio telescope is the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) completed in 2016 by China. [8] The 500-meter-diameter (1,600 ft) dish with an area as large as 30 football fields is built into a natural Karst depression in the landscape in Guizhou province and cannot move; the feed antenna is in a cabin suspended above the dish on cables. The active dish is composed of 4450 moveable panels controlled by a computer. By changing the shape of the dish and moving the feed cabin on its cables, the telescope can be steered to point to any region of the sky up to 40° from the zenith. Although the dish is 500 meters in diameter, only a 300-meter circular area on the dish is illuminated by the feed antenna at any given time, so the actual effective aperture is 300 meters. Construction was begun in 2007 and completed July 2016 [9] and the telescope became operational September 25, 2016. [10]

The world's second largest filled-aperture telescope is the Arecibo radio telescope located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Another stationary dish telescope like FAST, whose 305 m (1,001 ft) dish is built into a natural depression in the landscape, the antenna is steerable within an angle of about 20° of the zenith by moving the suspended feed antenna. The largest individual radio telescope of any kind is the RATAN-600 located near Nizhny Arkhyz, Russia, which consists of a 576-meter circle of rectangular radio reflectors, each of which can be pointed towards a central conical receiver.

The above stationary dishes are not fully "steerable"; they can only be aimed at points in an area of the sky near the zenith, and cannot receive from sources near the horizon. The largest fully steerable dish radio telescope is the 100 meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, United States, constructed in 2000. The largest fully steerable radio telescope in Europe is the Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope near Bonn, Germany, operated by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, which also was the world's largest fully steerable telescope for 30 years until the Green Bank antenna was constructed. [11] The third-largest fully steerable radio telescope is the 76-meter Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England, completed in 1957. The fourth-largest fully steerable radio telescopes are six 70-meter dishes: three Russian RT-70, and three in the NASA Deep Space Network. As of 2016, the planned Qitai Radio Telescope will be the world's largest fully steerable single-dish radio telescope with a diameter of 110 m (360 ft).

A typical size of the single antenna of a radio telescope is 25 meters. Dozens of radio telescopes with comparable sizes are operated in radio observatories all over the world.

Radiotelescopes in space

Since 1965, humans have launched three space-based radio telescopes. In 1965, the Soviet Union sent the first one called Zond 3. In 1997, Japan sent the second, HALCA. The last one was sent by Russia in 2011 called Spektr-R.

Radio interferometry

The Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico, an interferometric array formed of 27 parabolic dish telescopes. USA.NM.VeryLargeArray.02.jpg
The Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico, an interferometric array formed of 27 parabolic dish telescopes.

One of the most notable developments came in 1946 with the introduction of the technique called astronomical interferometry, which means combining the signals from multiple antennas so that they simulate a larger antenna, in order to achieve greater resolution. Astronomical radio interferometers usually consist either of arrays of parabolic dishes (e.g., the One-Mile Telescope), arrays of one-dimensional antennas (e.g., the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope) or two-dimensional arrays of omnidirectional dipoles (e.g., Tony Hewish's Pulsar Array). All of the telescopes in the array are widely separated and are usually connected using coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. Recent advances in the stability of electronic oscillators also now permit interferometry to be carried out by independent recording of the signals at the various antennas, and then later correlating the recordings at some central processing facility. This process is known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). Interferometry does increase the total signal collected, but its primary purpose is to vastly increase the resolution through a process called aperture synthesis. 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 equivalent in resolution (though not in sensitivity) to a single antenna whose diameter is equal to the spacing of the antennas furthest apart in the array.

Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Atacama desert consisting of 66 12-metre (39 ft), and 7-metre (23 ft) diameter radio telescopes designed to work at sub-millimeter wavelengths The Atacama Compact Array.jpg
Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Atacama desert consisting of 66 12-metre (39 ft), and 7-metre (23 ft) diameter radio telescopes designed to work at sub-millimeter wavelengths

A high-quality image requires a large number of different separations between telescopes. Projected separation between any two telescopes, as seen from the radio source, is called a baseline. For example, the Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro, New Mexico has 27 telescopes with 351 independent baselines at once, which achieves a resolution of 0.2 arc seconds at 3 cm wavelengths. [12] Martin Ryle's group in Cambridge obtained a Nobel Prize for interferometry and aperture synthesis. [13] The Lloyd's mirror interferometer was also developed independently in 1946 by Joseph Pawsey's group at the University of Sydney. [14] In the early 1950s, the Cambridge Interferometer mapped the radio sky to produce the famous 2C and 3C surveys of radio sources. An example of a large physically connected radio telescope array is the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, located in Pune, India. The largest array, the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), finished in 2012, is located in western Europe and consists of about 81,000 small antennas in 48 stations distributed over an area several hundreds of kilometers in diameter and operates between 1.25 and 30 m wavelengths. VLBI systems using post-observation processing have been constructed with antennas thousands of miles apart. Radio interferometers have also been used to obtain detailed images of the anisotropies and the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background, like the CBI interferometer in 2004.

The world's largest physically connected telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is planned to start operations in 2025.

Astronomical observations

Many astronomical objects are not only observable in visible light but also emit radiation at radio wavelengths. Besides observing energetic objects such as pulsars and quasars, radio telescopes are able to "image" most astronomical objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and even radio emissions from planets. [15] [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Radio astronomy subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies

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.

Parabolic antenna type of antenna

A parabolic antenna is an antenna that uses a parabolic reflector, a curved surface with the cross-sectional shape of a parabola, to direct the radio waves. The most common form is shaped like a dish and is popularly called a dish antenna or parabolic dish. The main advantage of a parabolic antenna is that it has high directivity. It functions similarly to a searchlight or flashlight reflector to direct the radio waves in a narrow beam, or receive radio waves from one particular direction only. Parabolic antennas have some of the highest gains, meaning that they can produce the narrowest beamwidths, of any antenna type. In order to achieve narrow beamwidths, the parabolic reflector must be much larger than the wavelength of the radio waves used, so parabolic antennas are used in the high frequency part of the radio spectrum, at UHF and microwave (SHF) frequencies, at which the wavelengths are small enough that conveniently-sized reflectors can be used.

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, ~50 miles (80 km) west of Socorro. The VLA comprises twenty-eight 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.

Grote Reber American astronomer

Grote Reber was an American 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.

Very Long Baseline Array radio interferometer / radio telescope

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 National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). 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 kilometers (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. For example, the Event Horizon Telescope project derived the first image of a black hole using aperture synthesis.

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope Radio telescope

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) is a submillimetre-wavelength telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, US. The telescope is near the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,425 feet (4,092 m). Its primary mirror is 15 metres across: it is the largest single-dish telescope that operates in submillimetre wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Scientists use it to study the Solar System, interstellar dust and gas, and distant galaxies.

Owens Valley Radio Observatory observatory

Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) is a radio astronomy observatory located near Big Pine, California (US) in Owens Valley. It lies east of the Sierra Nevada, approximately 350 kilometers (220 mi) north of Los Angeles and 20 kilometers (12 mi) southeast of Bishop. It was established in 1956, and is owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Owens Valley Solar Array portion of the observatory has been operated by New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) since 1997.

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.

Haystack Observatory American observatory affiliated with MIT

Haystack Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is located in Westford, Massachusetts (US), approximately 45 kilometers (28 mi) northwest of Boston. Haystack was initially built by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory for the United States Air Force and was known as Haystack Microwave Research Facility. Construction began in 1960, and the antenna began operating in 1964. In 1970 the facility was transferred to MIT, which then formed the Northeast Radio Observatory Corporation (NEROC) with a number of other universities to operate the site as the Haystack Observatory. As of January 2012, a total of nine institutions participated in NEROC.

Astronomical interferometer Array used for astronomical observations

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.

Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory

The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory is a research facility founded in 1960 and located at Kaleden, British Columbia, Canada. The site houses four radio telescopes: an interferometric radio telescope, a 26-m single-dish antenna, a solar flux monitor, and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) — as well as support engineering laboratories. The DRAO is operated by the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics of the National Research Council of the Government of Canada. The observatory was named an IEEE Milestone for first radio astronomical observations using VLBI.

Medicina Radio Observatory

The Medicina Radio Observatory is an astronomical observatory located 30 km from Bologna, Italy. It is operated by the Institute for Radio Astronomy of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) of the government of Italy.

Telescope Optical instrument that makes distant objects appear magnified

A telescope is an optical instrument that makes 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 were used for both terrestrial applications and astronomy.

Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope radio telescope located in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, China

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, nicknamed Tianyan is a radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression (大窝凼洼地), a natural basin in Pingtang County, Guizhou, southwest China. It consists of a fixed 500 m (1,600 ft) diameter dish constructed in a natural depression in the landscape. It is the world's largest filled-aperture radio telescope, and the second-largest single-dish aperture after the sparsely-filled RATAN-600 in Russia.

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.

Qitai Radio Telescope Planned Chinese radiotelescope

The Xingjiang Qitai 110m Radio Telescope (QTT) is a planned radio telescope to be built in Qitai County in Xinjiang, China. Upon completion, which is scheduled for 2023, it will be the world's largest fully steerable single-dish radio telescope. It is intended to operate at 300 MHz to 117 GHz. The construction of the antenna project is under the leadership of the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Large Latin American Millimeter Array

The Large Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA) is a single-dish 12 m Nasmyth optics antenna 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 and Brazilian governments. 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.

Korean VLBI Network

The Korean VLBI Network (KVN) is a radio astronomy observatory located in South Korea. It comprises three 21-meter radio telescopes that function as an interferometer, using the technique of very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI).

Nançay Radio Observatory

The Nançay Radio Observatory, opened in 1956, is part of Paris Observatory, and also associated with the University of Orléans. It is located in the department of Cher in the Sologne region of France. The station consists of several instruments. Most iconic of these is the large decimetric radio telescope, which is one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. Long established are also the radio heliograph, a T-shaped array, and the decametric array operating at wavelengths between 3 m and 30 m.

References

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Further reading