Visit to the Jansky Very Large Array

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When you’re building the world’s largest radio telescope, then you need to go and see how other observatories have done the same and learn what lessons you can – which are the good operational practices and what are the mistakes you should try to avoid.

Early in September, we went to visit the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, in New Mexico, USA. The JVLA is an iconic radio telescope with its distinctive ‘Y’ shaped configuration and featuring in various film and TV shows, most notably perhaps in the movie Contact.

At the time of our visit, the 25-metre dishes were being moved out to their very widest configuration where the furthest distance between two individual dishes reaches over 22.6 miles. They are moved, individually, by a transporter along the train tracks you can see in many of the images here.

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Site visit to SKA – South Africa

20 July 2016

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We had a flying visit to the SKA offices in Cape Town, South Africa for a meeting. Despite the distance, this a necessary part of the job, especially when you’re working on a globally distributed project such as the SKA. For me, this was also my first opportunity to visit the site where the South African telescope of the SKA is to be built, out in the Karoo desert. Having seen the site in Australia recently, I was excited to see the same in South Africa.

The day starts with an early morning flight from Cape Town in an executive jet, and seeing the sunrise from the air.

There is a direct flight to the observatory site, but we wanted to see the support facility in Klarefontaine, where the Engineering Operations Centre would be located. So this meant stopping in the small, nearby town of Carnarvon. Despite its remoteness and the dusty and makeshift runway, this part of the world is aware of the SKA and is preparing itself.

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One town, One mile, One camera – Valletta, Malta

This business trip took me to the capital of the Mediterranean island of Malta, Valletta. This was my first time to Malta and I enjoyed it very much. A typically mediterranean town especially at this time of year – hot, dusty, rocky. I found the language fascinating as it was very difficult, for me, to place. You could hear influences from the Latin and Arabic languages.

A week long meeting where I would spend the bulk of the day within a building listening and talking to people. So inspired by my post from Edinburgh I decided, over the course of the 5-day week, to enter street photography mode for the approximate 1 mile walk from the hotel to the University buildings where our conference and meetings were taking place.

Having never been there, I didn’t know what to expect of Valletta, but I quickly found that I really liked the town. It has character and charm, and more besides. Arguably, the island is most famous for receiving the George Cross from George VI following the great siege it suffered in WWII. A replica of the letter from the King bestowing the award is inscribed on the walls of the “Grandmaster’s Palace”.

The doorways and shop fronts in Valletta are both colourful, expressive and indivudual.

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One town, One mile, One camera – Edinburgh

A good friend of mine recently challenged me on Facebook to a 7-day B&W challenge. Take a single black & white image each day, for seven consecutive days, and post it on Facebook, and at the end pass on the challenge by nominating someone else. There are lots of these challenges around and I’m not normally a fan of them, but I felt different about this one.

I was spending the week in Edinburgh for a conference, so I wouldn’t have much time to explore the streets or spend sight-seeing. Opportunities for photography would be few and far between. Instead, the bulk of each day would be spent within the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, listening to people talk and talking to other people.

So there was a double challenge – the challenge itself and the challenge of fitting it into the time I had walking between the venue and my hotel, and the hotel to wherever we may be having dinner that evening.

But I did have a card up my sleeve – this is Edinburgh. Anything is possible from a creative standpoint.

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Western Australia, Day 3 – Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory

31 May 2016

Following our visit to the ASKAP array the previous day, a nice meal, a couple of beers and a good night’s sleep at the Boolardy Station. This morning, we’d be visiting the other telescope array at the MRO – the Murchison Widefield Array.

MRO-Day2_001
Getting ready to leave Boolardy Station to visit the MWA.

The MWA is a low frequency telescope array, operating between 80 and 300 MHz, and is not made of traditional telescope dishes but of radio antennae. These antennae can come in a variety of designs. At the MWA they have an uncanny resemblance to crabs or spiders crawling across the landscape.

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Western Australia, Day 2 – Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory

30 May 2016

We left Geraldton mid-morning to start our 5-hour trip across the Western Australian outback to the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory, the future site of the low-frequency Square Kilometre Array and the current site of two SKA-precursor instruments, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). The Precursor facilities are defined as being those situated on the two SKA sites in Australia and South Africa.

Maybe an hour out of Geraldton, we stopped at a small town, Mullewa, for a quick pit stop.

Jonesys Cafe, where you can find quite possibly what are the best muffins in the world, and the hottest damned coffee I’ve ever tried to drink. Norm, our bus driver for the two day trip, was staying cool regardless.

Back on the road and we are truly in the desert now. The weather was beautiful, but the northerners amongst us were constantly reminded that this is the Australian winter, and that it is not always like this.

That’s a big ant-hill, Adam! Try jumping up-and-down – let’s see what happens.

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Western Australia, Day 1 – Geraldton

29 May 2016

This was not my first visit to Australia, but it was my first time to Western Australia, and my first opportunity to visit the Australian site for the low-frequency telescope of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Travel the long distance from Europe to Perth (via Singapore), check into the hotel and then try to sleep it all off. The next day, a quick flight up WA’s Coral Coast to the small town of Geraldton, where the SKA’s operations centre will likely be based.

Not wanting to succumb to the jet-lag too soon, we decided to get out for a bite to eat and a stroll along the beach front. Of course, I took my camera with me.

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