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One of the major priorities of international radio astronomy is to study the early universe through the detection of the 21 cm HI line from the epoch of reionisation (EoR). Due to the weak nature of the 21 cm signal, an important part in the detection of the EoR is removing contaminating foregrounds from our observations as they are multiple orders of magnitude brighter. In order to achieve this, sky maps spanning a wide range of frequencies and angular scales are required for calibration and foreground subtraction. Complementing the existing low-frequency sky maps, we have constructed a Southern Sky map through spherical harmonic transit interferometry utilising the Engineering Development Array 2 (EDA2), a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) low-frequency array prototype system. We use the m-mode formalism to create an all-sky map at 159 MHz with an angular resolution of 3 degrees, with data from the EDA2 providing information over +60 degrees to –90 degrees in declination. We also introduce a new method for visualising and quantifying how the baseline distribution of an interferometer maps to the spherical harmonics and discuss how prior information can be used to constrain spherical harmonic components that the interferometer is not sensitive to.
Global 21-cm experiments require exquisitely precise calibration of the measurement systems in order to separate the weak 21-cm signal from Galactic and extragalactic foregrounds as well as instrumental systematics. Hitherto, experiments aiming to make this measurement have concentrated on measuring this signal using the single element approach. However, an alternative approach based on interferometers with short baselines is expected to alleviate some of the difficulties associated with a single element approach such as precision modelling of the receiver noise spectrum. Short spacing Interferometer Telescope probing cosmic dAwn and epoch of ReionisAtion (SITARA) is a short spacing interferometer deployed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO). It is intended to be a prototype or a test-bed to gain a better understanding of interferometry at short baselines, and develop tools to perform observations and data calibration. In this paper, we provide a description of the SITARA system and its deployment at the MRO, and discuss strategies developed to calibrate SITARA. We touch upon certain systematics seen in SITARA data and their modelling. We find that SITARA has sensitivity to all sky signals as well as non-negligible noise coupling between the antennas. It is seen that the coupled receiver noise has a spectral shape that broadly matches the theoretical calculations reported in prior works. We also find that when appropriately modified antenna radiation patterns taking into account the effects of mutual coupling are used, the measured data are well modelled by the standard visibility equation.
Precise instrumental calibration is of crucial importance to 21-cm cosmology experiments. The Murchison Widefield Array’s (MWA) Phase II compact configuration offers us opportunities for both redundant calibration and sky-based calibration algorithms; using the two in tandem is a potential approach to mitigate calibration errors caused by inaccurate sky models. The MWA Epoch of Reionization (EoR) experiment targets three patches of the sky (dubbed EoR0, EoR1, and EoR2) with deep observations. Previous work in Li et al. (2018) and (2019) studied the effect of tandem calibration on the EoR0 field and found that it yielded no significant improvement in the power spectrum (PS) over sky-based calibration alone. In this work, we apply similar techniques to the EoR1 field and find a distinct result: the improvements in the PS from tandem calibration are significant. To understand this result, we analyse both the calibration solutions themselves and the effects on the PS over three nights of EoR1 observations. We conclude that the presence of the bright radio galaxy Fornax A in EoR1 degrades the performance of sky-based calibration, which in turn enables redundant calibration to have a larger impact. These results suggest that redundant calibration can indeed mitigate some level of model incompleteness error.
We apply two methods to estimate the 21-cm bispectrum from data taken within the Epoch of Reionisation (EoR) project of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). Using data acquired with the Phase II compact array allows a direct bispectrum estimate to be undertaken on the multiple redundantly spaced triangles of antenna tiles, as well as an estimate based on data gridded to the uv-plane. The direct and gridded bispectrum estimators are applied to 21 h of high-band (167–197 MHz; z = 6.2–7.5) data from the 2016 and 2017 observing seasons. Analytic predictions for the bispectrum bias and variance for point-source foregrounds are derived. We compare the output of these approaches, the foreground contribution to the signal, and future prospects for measuring the bispectra with redundant and non-redundant arrays. We find that some triangle configurations yield bispectrum estimates that are consistent with the expected noise level after 10 h, while equilateral configurations are strongly foreground-dominated. Careful choice of triangle configurations may be made to reduce foreground bias that hinders power spectrum estimators, and the 21-cm bispectrum may be accessible in less time than the 21-cm power spectrum for some wave modes, with detections in hundreds of hours.
We describe the motivation and design details of the ‘Phase II’ upgrade of the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope. The expansion doubles to 256 the number of antenna tiles deployed in the array. The new antenna tiles enhance the capabilities of the Murchison Widefield Array in several key science areas. Seventy-two of the new tiles are deployed in a regular configuration near the existing array core. These new tiles enhance the surface brightness sensitivity of the array and will improve the ability of the Murchison Widefield Array to estimate the slope of the Epoch of Reionisation power spectrum by a factor of ∼3.5. The remaining 56 tiles are deployed on long baselines, doubling the maximum baseline of the array and improving the array u, v coverage. The improved imaging capabilities will provide an order of magnitude improvement in the noise floor of Murchison Widefield Array continuum images. The upgrade retains all of the features that have underpinned the Murchison Widefield Array’s success (large field of view, snapshot image quality, and pointing agility) and boosts the scientific potential with enhanced imaging capabilities and by enabling new calibration strategies.
In the era of the SKA precursors, telescopes are producing deeper, larger images of the sky on increasingly small time-scales. The greater size and volume of images place an increased demand on the software that we use to create catalogues, and so our source finding algorithms need to evolve accordingly. In this paper, we discuss some of the logistical and technical challenges that result from the increased size and volume of images that are to be analysed, and demonstrate how the Aegean source finding package has evolved to address these challenges. In particular, we address the issues of source finding on spatially correlated data, and on images in which the background, noise, and point spread function vary across the sky. We also introduce the concept of forced or prioritised fitting.
We test the hypothesis that limitations in the sky model used to calibrate an interferometric radio telescope, where the model contains extended radio sources, will generate bias in the Epoch of Reionisation power spectrum. The information contained in a calibration model about the spatial and spectral structure of an extended source is incomplete because a radio telescope cannot sample all Fourier components. Application of an incomplete sky model to calibration of Epoch of Reionisation data will imprint residual error in the data, which propagates forward to the Epoch of Reionisation power spectrum. This limited information is studied in the context of current and future planned instruments and surveys at Epoch of Reionisation frequencies, such as the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA1-Low). For the MWA Epoch of Reionisation experiment, we find that both the additional short baseline uv-coverage of the compact Epoch of Reionisation array, and the additional long baselines provided by TGSS and planned MWA expansions, are required to obtain sufficient information on all relevant scales. For SKA1-Low, arrays with maximum baselines of 49 km and 65 km yield comparable performance at 50 MHz and 150 MHz, while 39 km, 14 km, and 4 km arrays yield degraded performance.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Epoch of Reionisation and Cosmic Dawn (EoR/CD) experiments aim to explore the growth of structure and production of ionising radiation in the first billion years of the Universe. Here I describe the experiments planned for the future low-frequency components of the Observatory, and work underway to define, design and execute these programs.
Spectral features introduced by instrumental chromaticity of radio interferometers have the potential to negatively impact the ability to perform Epoch of Reionisation and Cosmic Dawn (EoR/CD) science. We describe instrument calibration choices that influence the spectral characteristics of the science data, and assess their impact on EoR/CD statistical and tomographic experiments. Principally, we consider the intrinsic spectral response of the antennas, embedded within a complete frequency-dependent primary beam response, and instrument sampling. The analysis is applied to the proposed SKA1-Low EoR/CD experiments. We provide tolerances on the smoothness of the SKA station primary beam bandpass, to meet the scientific goals of statistical and tomographic (imaging) of EoR/CD programs. Two calibration strategies are tested: (1) fitting of each fine channel independently, and (2) fitting of an nth-order polynomial for each ~ 1 MHz coarse channel with (n+1)th-order residuals (n = 2, 3, 4). Strategy (1) leads to uncorrelated power in the 2D power spectrum proportional to the thermal noise power, thereby reducing the overall sensitivity. Strategy (2) leads to correlated residuals from the fitting, and residual signal power with (n+1)th-order curvature. For the residual power to be less than the thermal noise, the fractional amplitude of a fourth-order term in the bandpass across a single coarse channel must be < 2.5% (50 MHz), < 0.5% (150 MHz), < 0.8% (200 MHz). The tomographic experiment places constraints on phase residuals in the bandpass. We find that the root-mean-square variability over all stations of the change in phase across any fine channel (4.578 kHz) should not exceed 0.2 degrees.
Noise considerations for experiments that aim to statistically estimate the 21 cm signal from high redshift neutral hydrogen during the Epoch of Reionisation (EoR) using interferometric data are typically computed assuming a tracked observation, where the telescope pointing centre and instrument phase centre are the same over the observation. Current low frequency interferometers use aperture arrays of fixed dipoles, which are steered electronically on the sky, and have different properties to mechanically-steered single apertures, such as reduced sensitivity away from zenith, and discrete pointing positions on the sky. These properties encourage the use of two additional observing modes: (1) zenith drift, where the pointing centre remains fixed at the zenith, and the phase centre tracks the sky, and (2) drift + shift, a hybrid mode where the telescope uses discrete pointing centres, and the sky drifts during each fixed pointing. These three observing modes view the sky differently, and therefore yield different uncertainties in the power spectrum according to the balance of radiometric noise and cosmic variance. The coherence of measurements made by the instrument in these modes dictates the optimal reduction in thermal noise by combination of coherent modes, and the reduction in cosmic variance by combination of incoherent modes (views of different patches of the sky). Along with calibration and instrument stability considerations, the balance between these noise components provides one measure for the utility of these three modes for measuring a statistical signature of the EoR signal. We provide a general framework for estimating the uncertainty in the power spectrum for a given observing mode, telescope beam shape, and interferometer antenna distribution. We then apply this framework to the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) using an analysis of the two-dimensional (2D) and one-dimensional (1D) power spectra for 900 hours of observing. We demonstrate that zenith drift scans can yield marginally lower uncertainty in the signal power compared with tracked scans for the MWA EoR experiment, and that moderately higher signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) estimates of the amplitude (3%) and slope (1%) of the 1D power spectrum are accessible, translating directly into a reduction in the required observing time to reach the same estimation precision. We find that the additional sensitivity of pointing at zenith, and the reduction in cosmic variance available with a zenith drift scan, makes this an attractive observing mode for current and future arrays.
The detection of sources in interferometric radio data typically relies on extracting information from images, formed by Fourier transform of the underlying visibility dataset, and CLEANed of contaminating sidelobes through iterative deconvolution. Variable and transient radio sources span a large range of variability timescales, and their study has the potential to enhance our knowledge of the dynamic universe. Their detection and classification involve large data rates and non-stationary PSFs, commensal observing programs and ambitious science goals, and will demand a paradigm shift in the deployment of next-generation instruments. Optimal source detection and classification in real time requires efficient and automated algorithms. On short time-scales variability can be probed with an optimal matched filter detector applied directly to the visibility dataset. This paper shows the design of such a detector, and some preliminary detection performance results.
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