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article imageRadio telescope 'as big as the Earth' links up

By Paul Wallis     Sep 10, 2007 in Science
Radio telescopes in China, Europe and Australia were electronically linked for the first time. Seven telescopes combined to observe a distant galaxy called 3C273. The link is possible because if high speed global networks.
This Space Daily article is about a true seminal moment for radio astronomy. The two most widely separated telescopes were over 12,000 km apart. Scientists are understandably crowing about this achievement. The networks speed was 256MB per second. The peak Australian speed was 1 Gigabyte per second.
It’ll save them a lot of other work, too. Information was previously shared using disks, using atomic clocks to ensure times of observation, for results to be correlated. Interestingly, the wider spread of telescopes allows for finer detail, something which is becoming a much more pressing need for astronomers as the huge amounts of data pile up.
Ambivalent readings, or lengthy processes of analysis and confirmation, aren’t in high demand. Data loads are gigantic. Radio astronomy remains a major workhorse, and the interactions of visual data and the various electronic data received from space based telescopes using X rays and infrared radiation are only part of the story.
Astronomy needs holistic data. There’s a lot more than seven radio telescopes on Earth, and it’s quite possible that they are now able to do thousands of times more.
Also significant is the network created to transmit the data:
“The results were then transmitted to Xi'an, China, where they were watched live by experts in advanced networking at the 24th APAN (Asia-Pacific Advanced Network) Meeting.
From Australia to Europe, the CSIRO data travelled on a dedicated 1 Gb per second link set up by the Australian, Canadian and Dutch national research and education networks, AARNet, CANARIE and SURFnet respectively.”
Meaning the network can be monitored in real time. That’s another big step. In fact, it’s perhaps the big step, in terms of designing future systems, as well as operating current radio telescopes. If radio astronomers needed encouragement, this is it.
Looks like the future’s dropped in to say hello.
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