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Significant new opportunities for astrophysics and cosmology have been identified at low radio frequencies. The Murchison Widefield Array is the first telescope in the southern hemisphere designed specifically to explore the low-frequency astronomical sky between 80 and 300 MHz with arcminute angular resolution and high survey efficiency. The telescope will enable new advances along four key science themes, including searching for redshifted 21-cm emission from the EoR in the early Universe; Galactic and extragalactic all-sky southern hemisphere surveys; time-domain astrophysics; and solar, heliospheric, and ionospheric science and space weather. The Murchison Widefield Array is located in Western Australia at the site of the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA) low-band telescope and is the only low-frequency SKA precursor facility. In this paper, we review the performance properties of the Murchison Widefield Array and describe its primary scientific objectives.
This triennium began with an action to re-create the Terms of Reference for the Working Group Global VLBI (WG-GV). These had been lost over the years since the Group was established in 1990. Fortunately, the personal archive of one long-term member yielded a copy of the original memorandum by R. D. Ekers, which was found to coincide quite well with current practice and areas of interest. New Terms of Reference, based on modern conditions, were drafted and accepted by both IAU and URSI.
Modern VLBI observations for both astronomy and geodesy continue to demand the utmost in sensitivity. Of the methods potentially available for increasing the sensitivity of continuum VLBI observations, increasing the recorded bandwidth is generally the most cost effective.
Over the past two years a broadly-supported program has been underway at Haystack Observatory to increase the sensitivity of the Mark IIIA VLBI system by more than a factor of 2. The result is an upgrade to the existing Mark IIIA data-acquisition system, dubbed Mark IV, which increases the maximum data rate to 1024 Mbits/sec, more than quadrupling the maximum data-rate of the Mark IIIA.
A new correlator, based on a new custom VLSI correlator chip is also being designed to support the 1 Gbit/sec data rates from the Mark IV data-acquisition-system. An international collaborative effort is being mounted to help defray the high costs of development.
The Mark IIIA correlator system is currently operating at the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in support of VLBI geodetic measurements being made by NASA, NGS, NRL, and USNO. This correlator system, developed at Haystack Observatory, is a second-generation version of the original Mark III correlator, and adds significant new capabilities such as double-speed operation, longer integration periods, and improved internal modelling.
The Mark IIIA correlator can simultaneously process up to 10 baselines of data from 5 stations. Experiments including more than 5 stations may be processed with multiple passes through the correlator. The architecture of the correlator allows a future expansion to a maximum of 16 stations. Due to a simple modular design and the low cost of required computer-support equipment, expansion is straightforward and relatively economical.
Although current geodetic VLBI observations are made using data from distant natural continuum radio sources, the Mark IIIA correlator was designed to also support processing of data collected from pulsars, artificial earth satellites, and from earth-orbiting antennas receiving signals from natural sources. These capabilities may be important in the future as efforts continue, for example, to tie satellite-related reference frames to current VLBI reference frames.
The design approach of the Mark IIIA correlator will be discussed, including its performance with respect to systematic and random errors which may affect geodetic VLBI data.
The Mark IIIA correlator system, developed at Haystack Observatory, is a second-generation version of the original Mark III correlator which adds significant new capabilities, such as double-speed operation, longer integration periods, and improved internal modelling. One Mark IIIA correlator is currently operational at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., and another is being readied to replace the Mark III correlator at Haystack.
The Mark IIIA correlator can simultaneously process up to 10 baselines of 24-MHz BW data from 5 stations. Experiments including more than 5 stations may be processed with multiple passes through the correlator. The architecture of the correlator allows a future expansion to a maximum of 16 stations. Due to a simple modular design and the low cost of required computer-support equipment, expansion is straightforward and relatively economical.
Both astronomy and geodetic data processing are supported by the Mark IIIA system, including spectral line and pulsar gating. In addition, recent work has led to support of space-based VLBI observations; this capability was critical in supporting the first successful space-based VLBI astronomy observations between ground-based antennas and an orbiting satellite in August 1986.
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