Every day, powerful telescopes around the world observe the universe. Unfortunately, most of the data is ignored and discarded. In a new approach to astronomy, a project aims to gather and analyze the valuable information that is captured by the world’s most powerful radio telescope. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. are collaborating with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to send a continuous data stream to the laboratory.
Recently, the VLA Low Band Ionospheric and Transient Experiment (VLITE) was built to work in conjunction with the powerful and established VLA. The new system basically goes along for a ride with VLA and takes advantage of the expensive and complicated infrastructure that is already in place. VLITE operates in real-time on ten VLA antennas and provides 64 MHz of bandwidth centered on 352 MHz with a temporal resolution of 2s and a spectral resolution of 100 kHz. In this way, VLITE will collect a continual data stream over a large region of the sky. This massive amount of data will then be analyzed by an automated pipeline.
The main purpose of VLITE is real-time monitoring of ionospheric weather conditions over the southwestern United States. Ionospheric disturbances can cause problems for radio-frequency applications such as satellite-based communication and navigation, as well as ground-based systems like ham radio. Scientists hope that the data collected by VLITE will provide new insights that will help them find better ways to mitigate the effects of these ionic ripples.