26 September 2007

Network to the Stars

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For many years the observation of space has depended on just one big radio telescope at any one time. However, they can only reach a resolution equivalent to the human eye. (Feb. '05)
Astronomers Use Internet as A Global Telescope

GÉANT is born, the biggest telescope in the world. It consists of a new faster Internet network capable of transmitting data up to 10 gigabytes per second. Thanks to GÉANT, astronomers and other astrophysical researchers will be able to look deeper into the universe and solve the mystery of the Big Bang. This special computer is located at the JIVE research institute in The Netherlands.

For many years the observation of space has depended on just one big radio telescope at any one time. However, as big as these devices are, they can only reach a resolution equivalent to the human eye, and their observations are not always reliable. To avoid this, astronomers have developed a new imaging technique for supreme detail called VLBI: Very Long Baseline Interferometry. They have been using arrays of telescopes linked together across countries and continents. When the signals are combined in a specialised computer, the resulting image has a resolution equal to that of a massive high-power telescope.

Until recently, observation data has been recorded onto magnetic tapes, but it has taken days, if not weeks or months, to collect these strips from other observatories for comparison and correlation. Data has also been lost during the recording phase, due to the limited bandwidth of tapes.

…and so GÉANT is born

Now, Europe’s astro-physicians can get the image they have been looking for in hours rather than months. This gives plenty of advantages.

First of all, the high speed of the system enables scientists to verify in real time that all telescopes are working effectively together, and that all transmissions are of good quality.

Secondly, thanks to GÉANT’s larger bandwidth, it is possible to obtain a sharper image of the subject, more detailed and reliable. This has recently allowed the observation of a jet of gas moving at nearly the speed of light close to the edge of the visible Universe.

Thirdly, the new Internet connection also offers researchers the opportunity to capture unpredictable, transient events as they happen. They can observe sources, they have often ignored because they demanded too much ‘telescope time’ without a guarantee of real interest. For example, exploding stars are not always detectable, and so astronomers did not want to waste time on them. The GÉANT network makes it clear immediately whether they have detected the sources, and whether it is worth continuing the observation.

GÉANT’s technology is going to play an important role in the study of space, producing more reliable results. As Mike Garrett, Director of the JIVE observatory in the Netherlands, comments: “We aim to detect and capture the most distant objects in the universe. GÉANT and the data available on that network will permit us to detect those sources and to develop cutting-edge science.”

Astronomy is only the first field of study to apply GÉANT’s technology. Supported by the ET, the network will also boost the development activities of the European research and education community.

WEBLINKS
> The GÉANT2 project
GÉANT2 is the 7th generation of pan-European research & education network, successor to the pan-European multi-gigabit network GÉANT. The project began on 1.9.2004 and will run for 4 years

> DANTE
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit company. It plans, builds and operates pan-European networks for research and education., e.g. the GEANT network.

> GridStart
A European sponsored initiative Commission to promote and stimulate the take-up by industry and research of Grid-enabled applications. Projects, events, links, newsletters and downloads.

> GridCafè
The place where everybody can learn about the GRID – courtesy of the CERN

> ESA – European Space Agency
Article on the Very-Long Baseline Interferometry, the technology that lies at the base of the Geant space observation. By the ESA-Space Science.

> Global Grid Forum
A community-initiated forum of individuals from industry and research leading the global standardization effort for grid computing. News, related documents and events listing.

> Enabling Grids for e-Science in Europe
EU-funded project bringing together experts from over 27 countries to develop a Grid infrastructure available to scientists 24 hours-a-day. Links, news, FAQs and information sheets.
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Network to the Stars

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