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We have used the broadband backend available at the ATCA to study the fast interstellar scintillation (ISS) of quasar PKS 1257–326, resolving the core shift as a function of frequency on scales less than 10 microarcseconds. In this short paper we discuss the jet direction implied from the microarcsecond-scale core shift in PKS 1257–326.
We investigate the optimal tradeoff between sensitivity and field of view in surveys for slow radio transients using the event detection rate as the survey metric. This tradeoff bears implications for the design of surveys conducted with upcoming widefield radio interferometers, such as the ASKAP VAST survey and the MeerKAT TRAPUM survey. We investigate (i) a survey in which the events are distributed homogeneously throughout a volume centred on the Earth, (ii) a survey in which the events are homogeneously distributed, but are only detectable beyond a certain minimum distance, and (iii) a survey in which all the events occur at an identical distance, as is appropriate for a targetted survey of a particular field which subtends Npoint telescope pointings. For a survey of fixed duration, Tobs, we determine the optimal tradeoff between number of telescope pointings, N, and integration time per field. We consider a population in which the event luminosity distribution follows a power law with index − α, and tslew is the slewing time between fields or, for a drift scan, the time taken for the telescope drift by one beamwidth. Several orders of magnitude improvement in detection rate is possible by optimization of the survey parameters. The optimal value of N for case (i) is Nmax ~ Tobs/4tslew, while for case (iii) we find Nmax = (Lmax/L0)2[(3 − α)/2]2/(α − 1), where Lmax is the maximum luminosity of a transient event and L0 is the minimum luminosity event detectable in an integration of duration Tobs. (The instance Nmax > Npoint in (iii) implies re-observation of fields over the survey area, except when the duration of transient events exceeds that between re-observations of the same field, where Nmax = Npoint applies instead.) We consider the balance in survey optimization between telescope field of view, Ω, and sensitivity, characterised by the minimum detectable flux density, S0. For homogeneously distributed events (i), the detection rate scales as NΩS−3/20, while for targetted events (iii) it scales as NΩS1 − α0. However, if the targetted survey is optimised for N the event detection rate scales instead as ΩS−20. This analysis bears implications for the assessment of telescope designs: the quantity ΩS−20 is often used as the metric of telescope performance in the SKA transients literature, but only under special circumstances is it the metric that optimises the event detection rate.
We discuss the constraints that recent observations place on circular polarisation in AGN. In many sources the circular polarisation is variable on short timescales, indicating that it originates in compact regions of the sources. The best prospects for gleaning further information about circular polarisation are high resolution VLBI and scintillation ‘imaging’ which probe source structure on milliarcsecond and microarcsecond scales respectively.
Flux density monitoring data at 2.3 and 8.4 GHz is presented for a sample of 33 southern hemisphere GPS sources, drawn from the 2.7 GHz Parkes survey. This monitoring data, together with VLBI monitoring data, shows that a small fraction of these sources, ∼10%, vary. Their variability falls into several categories: sources whose spectral classification is, at best, ephemeral on a timescale of years; sources with a stable GPS classification that vary, but retain their classification; and a small number of sources that exhibit interstellar scintillation, but that maintain a mean GPS spectrum. Existing data on GPS sources with higher frequency peaks, ≥3 GHz, reveals that many such sources vary. However, the majority of these sources possess a GPS spectrum only during outbursts, and hence should perhaps be classified as ephemeral GPS sources. In addition, significant levels of circular polarisation have been found in a number of GPS sources, both amongst the variables and non-variables. Remarkable amongst these is PKS 1519–273, which possesses strong and variable circular polarisation, and which exhibits IDV in all Stokes parameters.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) will give us an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the transient sky at radio wavelengths. In this paper we present VAST, an ASKAP survey for Variables and Slow Transients. VAST will exploit the wide-field survey capabilities of ASKAP to enable the discovery and investigation of variable and transient phenomena from the local to the cosmological, including flare stars, intermittent pulsars, X-ray binaries, magnetars, extreme scattering events, interstellar scintillation, radio supernovae, and orphan afterglows of gamma-ray bursts. In addition, it will allow us to probe unexplored regions of parameter space where new classes of transient sources may be detected. In this paper we review the known radio transient and variable populations and the current results from blind radio surveys. We outline a comprehensive program based on a multi-tiered survey strategy to characterise the radio transient sky through detection and monitoring of transient and variable sources on the ASKAP imaging timescales of 5 s and greater. We also present an analysis of the expected source populations that we will be able to detect with VAST.
We are developing a purely commensal survey experiment for fast (<5 s) transient radio sources. Short-timescale transients are associated with the most energetic and brightest single events in the Universe. Our objective is to cover the enormous volume of transients parameter space made available by ASKAP, with an unprecedented combination of sensitivity and field of view. Fast timescale transients open new vistas on the physics of high brightness temperature emission, extreme states of matter and the physics of strong gravitational fields. In addition, the detection of extragalactic objects affords us an entirely new and extremely sensitive probe on the huge reservoir of baryons present in the IGM. We outline here our approach to the considerable challenge involved in detecting fast transients, particularly the development of hardware fast enough to dedisperse and search the ASKAP data stream at or near real-time rates. Through CRAFT, ASKAP will provide the testbed of many of the key technologies and survey modes proposed for high time resolution science with the SKA.
Extreme Scattering Events and pulsar secondary spectra have highlighted fundamental problems in our understanding of the dynamics of interstellar turbulence. We describe some of these problems in detail and present the theory behind the technique of speckle imaging, which offers a prospect of revealing fundamental properties of the turbulence. It also offers the prospect of resolving pulsar magnetospheres on ~ 10 nas scales.
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.
PKS 1257—326 is one of three quasars known to show unusually large and rapid, intra-hour intensity variations, as a result of scintillation in the turbulent Galactic interstellar medium. We have measured time delays in the variability pattern arrival times at the VLA and the ATCA, as well as an annual cycle in the time-scale of variability for this source. Results of the two-station time delay observations are presented here. Implications for the scintillation of this source are discussed in the light of these results, together with results from two years of monitoring with the ATCA.
We discuss conditions which have to be satisfied for observable signatures of diffractive scintillation in intraday variable (IDV) sources. We apply this discussion to the quasar PKS 0405-385 which had a scintillating component with angular size of 5 μas (Kedziora-Chudczer et al. 1997).
We discuss the detection of variable circular polarization (CP) in several scintillating radio sources: PKS 1519-273, PKS 0405-385 and Sgr A*. In all cases the CP is variable, with the fractional variability in the CP greatly exceeding that in total intensity.
We find strong (> 1%) circular polarization in the intraday-variable radio source PKS 1519–273. The source exhibits ~ 12 hourly variability in all four Stokes parameters at 4.8 and 8.6 GHz, and longer timescale variability at 2.5 and 1.4 GHz. The characteristics and frequency dependence of the variability suggest that it is due to interstellar scintillation. VSOP limits on the distance to the scattering screen constrain the brightness temperature to TB > 5 × 1013 K. The fluctuations in total intensity are well-correlated with those in circular polarization, implying that the variable component of the source is −3.8 ±0.4% circularly polarized at 4.8 GHz. The origin of the circular polarization is unclear.
The accumulation of evidence now strongly favours interstellar scintillation (ISS) as the principal mechanism causing intra-day variability (IDV) at cm wavelengths. While ISS reduces the implied brightness temperatures, they remain uncomfortably high. The distance to the scattering screen is an important parameter in determining the actual brightness temperature encountered. The high brightness temperatures, the presence of strong and variable circular polarization and the observed lifetimes of a decade or more for several IDV sources, pose significant problems for synchrotron theory.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Intra-day variability (IDV) of active galactic nuclei (AGN) has been detected from gamma-ray energies to radio wavelengths. At high energies, such variability appears to be intrinsic to the sources themselves. However, at radio wavelengths, brightness temperatures as high as 1018 to 1021 K are encountered if the IDV is intrinsic to the source. We discuss here the accumulating evidence showing that, at radio wavelengths where the highest brightness temperatures are encountered, interstellar scintillation (ISS) is the principal mechanism causing IDV. While ISS reduces the implied brightness temperatures, they still remain uncomfortably high.
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