Wednesday, 31 July 2013

ISR School: Haystack Radio Telescope I

The building in which this year's ISR School is currently taking place, is dwarfed by the Haystack Radio Telescope, a 37-m parabolic dish antenna, which recently was upgraded to operate as a radar at 95 GHz as well as doing radio astronomy in the band 85-115 GHz.

In 2010, the ISR School already took place at the same location, and the modification of the antenna was just under way. A huge crane had been built next to the facility in order to lift the cap off of the radome and then take the old dish out for refurbishment. It was an impressive site.

During the 2010 ISR School, Google updated the aerial imagery at their Google Earth service, which still today shows a spectacular view of the open radome from above.

Today, a scale model of the crane and a beautiful photograph in a glass cabinet bear witness to this epic effort of upgrading the Haystack Radio Telescope.

Photos: Thomas Ulich and Google Earth.

ISR School: Westford Radio Telescope

The second day at the Incoherent Scatter Radar School at MIT Haystack Observatory presented the participants with a crash course in incoherent scatter theory and measurement principles. The challenge for the afternoon: submit a proposal for a radar measurement to be run during the coming night in order for the data to be processed during the rest of the week.

In order to get out of the house, our hosts at Haystack arranged for three short excursions on the local campus. Today we went to the Westford Radio Telescope, which is used mainly for astronomy and very large baseline interferometry (VLBI).

The 18.3-m parabolic dish is housed under a radome, which is formed by an inflated fabric-reinforced teflon sheet. The inside of the 28-m radome is kept some 0.1 PSI above outside pressure, which is enough for the radome to withstand wind speeds of up to 160 km/h. The antenna itself is based on a surplus gun mount from a battle cruiser, which allows for rotation in all directions.

For our group, the antenna was turned down to zero degree elevation, so that we could have a look inside the dish. Everyone was eager to take some pictures, but this proved a challenge due to the close proximity of the antenna to the gallery: we had to mind our heads, that's how low down it came.

The final photo shows Mike Poirier, who is in charge of the radio telescope, while he explained the control room to our group. Thanks to Mike for a highly interesting as well as entertaining tour!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

ISR School: Testing Parabolic Dishes

The first day of the Incoherent Scatter Radar School at the MIT Haystack Observatory has passed, including all of the introductory lectures, and the first group work (exercises) on how to work with the Madrigal Database, which is a globally networked data base, which contains the vast majority of the data from most of the incoherent scatter radars in the world.

One of the curiosities of the day was the setup of two parabolic dishes in front of the building. They are designed to bounce acoustic waves between them. A small platform is provided, so that one can speak from the focal point of one of the dishes and see how the signal changes with location.

This proved a lot of fun, but we had to be careful, because a few bees decided to build small hives in one of the dishes.

Photos: Thomas Ulich.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Let the Radar School begin!

The ISR School at MIT Haystack Observatory is underway, and an enthusiastic group of some 32 students and their instructors will spend the rest of the week in Haystack building in the photo above. Immediately behind the building, one can see that radome of the 37-m antenna, which uses frequencies of up to 100 GHz for imaging near-Earth objects.

After the welcoming and other technicalities were sorted out, Elizabeth Kendall opened the school with the first lecture, giving a quick overview of ionospheric physics. Thereafter, Anthea Coster (in the photo above) continued by introducing the group to the Basics of Radar.

Traditionally, the schools on incoherent scatter radars on both sides of the Atlantic bring together participants with a broad variety of backgrounds from engineering via atmospheric physics to mathematics. At the same time, some of the "students" have already many years of experience in other, related fields, while some others are pursuing their M.Sc. or Ph.D. degrees. Therefore the schools have to provide a level starting point by providing quick overviews of the basic concepts involved, before diving into the depths of incoherent scatter radars.

Photos: Thomas Ulich.

ISR School: Accommodation Considerations

When planning an effort such as the US Incoherent Scatter Radar School, then a things are essential, but sometimes hard to get right. Our US colleagues got the accommodation issue nailed spot-on! Everyone, teachers and students, will stay at this place, which is an interesting hotel in the sense that it provides large mini-apartments instead of normal hotel rooms. These apartments include a small kitchen, dining table, desk, separate bedroom and bathroom.

This setup is perfect for our radar school, because the radar school is built heavily around group work and hands-on experience for students. During the week, there will be lectures in the mornings, and group work in the afternoons. At some point in the late afternoon, shuttle buses will bring everyone back to the accommodation. Students can then easily meet and work together in their respective rooms or the lobby, which would be very hard to arrange, if everyone would stay in different hotels scattered across town – no matter how small the town.

A short walk around the accommodation reveals all kinds of services from coffee shops, fast-food and proper-food restaurants, and a super market. I guess we won't go hungry then.

The hotel's shuttles are on stand-by to bring everyone in tomorrow morning, even though I suspect the 07:30 am shuttle might not prove popular.

Photos: Thomas Ulich.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

ISR School: Off to Boston!

It's time again for the 2013 ISR School of our US colleagues including the AMISR community. The radar school will begin with an informal get-together with some pizzas etc on the evening of Sunday, 28th July, and the actual school programme is scheduled to begin on Monday morning, 29th July.

Previously, the ISR School took place at MIT Haystack, near Boston (2010), Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, together with EISCAT (2011), and in Banff, Canada (2012). This year, we are at MIT Haystack Observatory again. Time to get going then, since it's a long way from Sodankylä to Chelmsford, where everyone will be staying.

The in-flight map had some great features of alternative displays and constant information about speed, altitude and temperature. When I took this photo, we were heading out towards the Irish Sea, leaving UK airspace after starting from Heathrow. Still a long way to go.

Somewhere south of Iceland, above the Atlantic Ocean, there we encountered some rather impressive cloud formations.

We shall update you on the progress of the radar school throughout the coming week, and at the same time re-launch the blog after the holiday period. So, stay tuned to updates and photos.

EISCAT Symposium: The 2013 EISCAT International Symposium will begin in only two week's time, and we've just been informed that the first draft programme is now on-line for download. So check out their web site!

Photos: Thomas Ulich.