ASSOCIATED UNIVERSITIES, INC.
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).
In order for astronomers to have the highest possible resolution to detect objects of the smallest angular size, they require large telescopes, or they combine the light from telescopes that are separated from one another. As the separation between the telescopes increases, so does the ability to resolve finer details. The largest platform that is currently in use for astronomy is the earth itself. Radio astronomers use radio telescopes that are spread by thousands of miles in what is called the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA). A large number of important scientific problems are investigated with the VLBA which also provides an important service in determining the positions and motions of objects on the sky, a branch of astronomy called astrometry. Astrometry is important for all astronomers, but it also serves commercial and defense interests for satellite navigation and calibration of the GPS system.
Radio astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) have realized that they can significantly increase the sensitivity of the VLBA by adding computing power and data storage capabilities to the signal processing equipment that correlates the signals from the telescopes. Their work, sponsored by the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program, will allow scientists to see fainter objects to probe farther and deeper into space. It will also allow them to improve the accuracy of measurements made for astrometry. The work will be led by Dr. R. Craig Walker of NRAO in Socorro, NM.