Telescopes from the four corners of the earth have been successfully linked up to create a real-time virtual telescope, enabling astronomers from the EU-funded Express Production Real-time e-VLBI Service (EXPReS) project to simultaneously observe galaxies in the distant universe. The virtual telescope, which is almost 11,000 kilometres in diameter, connects telescopes from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Chile, Puerto Rico and South Africa. Using the telescope, astronomers were able to simultaneously observe quasar 3C454.3 a bright fringe-finder source, and other targets. These observations were transmitted in real-time at an aggregated rate of 1.44 Gbps to a super computer located at the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (JIVE), in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands. The link-up of the telescopes was made possible thanks to the collaborative work of GÉANT2, the largest research and education network ever built for the European academic community, and other research data networks across the globe. This is a great achievement for astronomers and for astronomy itself, believes Dr Huib Jan van Langevelde, Coordinator of EXPReS and Director of JIVE. 'By linking telescopes across the globe to create an internationally distributed electronic Very Long Baseline Interferometer (e-VLBI) we will be able to chart evidence of previously unseen astronomical events,' he commented. 'Scalable, high speed networks are central to our mission and working with [such] partners [...] push back the frontiers of astronomy.' The virtual telescope makes use of VLBI, a type of astronomical interferometry, which allows simultaneous astronomical observations to be made of an object by many telescopes. This process emulates a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes. The VLBI technique can generate images of cosmic radio sources with up to a hundred times better resolution than images from the best optical telescopes. Other observations made by VLBI include high energy particles being ejected by black holes, to measuring the fundamental speed of gravity. The EXPReS project, which connects 16 of the world's telescopes, has developed an e-VLBI, whereby networked telescopes can send data electronically and correlate it in real-time. Doing so 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. 'The scale and power of the EXPReS project revolutionises how astronomers can view the universe by enabling them to collaborate across the globe,' commented Dai Davies of DANTE, the international research and education network provider that manages GÉANT2. 'Working with JIVE and our networking colleagues to create this demonstration shows the potential that high speed networking provides to the research community, across the globe.'
Chile, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Sweden, South Africa