RadioNet: Advanced Radio Astronomy in Europe
9th March 2004
A new European astronomy programme, RadioNet, is formally initiated this week with an inaugural meeting of its Board at the Istituto de Astrophysica in Tenerife. It is significant that, though RadioNet is a grouping of European Radio Astronomy Observatories, this meeting is being held at an optical observatory. This is in accordance with one of its main aims - that of building bridges and improving communications amongst all astronomers within the European Community.
RadioNet is a new vision for radio astronomy designed to bring together a broad group of institutes to collaborate widely in coordinated research and related activities. It is already promoting a much greater level of cooperation and collaboration than existed before and it is hoped that astronomers will quickly see the benefits of this in the shape of greater access to those telescopes that they may not be familiar with, in improvements to the instrumentation of these telescopes and in a more coherent approach to future challenges.
Over recent years European radio astronomy has been the beneficiary of significant funding from the European Commission (EC). The EC's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), now underway, broadened the scope of such support and created an instrument known as an Integrated Infrastructure Initiative (I3) designed to bring together a broad group of institutes to collaborate in a range of areas. European radio astronomers felt that this was an opportunity not to be missed and so put together a broad programme in a proposal called RadioNet which was rated first amongst all astronomy proposals and was funded at a level of 12.4 MEuro for five years from January this year.
RadioNet has 20 partners. They range from operators of radio telescope facilities to laboratories that specialize in micro-electronics, MMIC design and super-conducting component fabrication. The RadioNet project has brought these institutes together in an unique partnership that builds on and extends the successful, but smaller, collaborations that currently exist.
The RadioNet management plan is strong and well-structured and builds on the close collaboration that many of the institutes have developed over the last 25 years of operation of the European VLBI Network - an array of major radio telescopes spanning Europe from Finland to Sicily and south to South Africa and from the UK to Poland and eastwards to China. The many strands of RadioNet are to be linked together from the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory under the leadership of Professor Philip Diamond who has been appointed RadioNet Coordinator.
A RadioNet web-site has been established (http://www.radionet-eu.org/). This will be the main interface between RadioNet and the astronomy community.
Details of the RadioNet Programme:
The RadioNet programme has three strands:
- Trans-National Access (TNA). This programme is the largest in RadioNet and is designed to encourage and increase the European user base of the radio telescopes run by Europe. These include the European VLBI Network, the 217-km MERLIN array in the UK, the Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimétrique's six-antenna interferometer array in France and 30-m radio telescope in Spain, the James Clark Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands, the Effelsberg 100-m radio telescope in Germany and the Onsala Space Observatory's 20-m millimetre telescope in Sweden. This programme provides the additional facility running costs needed to support these users and will pay for the travel expenses incurred by eligible users for making their observations or reducing their data. The TNA programme has started and all of these telescopes now have funds to pay for European users.
- Joint Research Activities (JRA). There are three technical R&D programmes within RadioNet:
- ALBUS is focused on improving user software for arrays observing at centimetre wavelengths such as the 217km array, MERLIN, within the UK.
- AMSTAR will develop new technologies for RadioNet's mm/sub-mm facilities such as the UK-operated JCMT on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the Swedish 20-m dish and the IRAM telescopes in France and Spain.
- PHAROS will build on the successful FP5 FARADAY project and develop low-noise, phased receiver arrays to be installed at the foci of large radio telescopes to allow high frequency sky surveys to be carried out efficiently.
- Networking Activities. This area is designed to enhance the communication between scientists, engineers, programmers etc within the European radio community and to strengthen the links to our colleagues who work in other wavebands. It will be funding science and engineering workshops, working visits between institutes, training schools and more. The first RadioNet funded workshop has already taken place: 'Dense Molecular Gas around Protostars and Galactic Nuclei', held on 17-20 February in Zwolle, NL and which, by all accounts, was a great success.
These form an integrated, inter-dependent and focused plan that has several major objectives:
The provision of an integrated radio astronomy network that will provide European scientists with access to world-class facilities. The provision of a research and development plan aimed at supporting and enhancing these facilities development and the fostering of close collaboration in engineering, software, and user support.
The preparation and fostering of the European community for the next generation of European facilities such as ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array being built in Chile and the SKA, the Square Kilometre Array, now being planned.
The strengthening of the entire European community through the development of close links with OPTICON and ILIAS, our partner astronomy European funded astronomy programmes.
Professor Philip Diamond - RadioNet Coordinator.
Jodrell Bank Observatory.
University of Manchester.
Phone: +44 (0) 1477 572625
Mobile: +44 (0) 7919 020218
Dr. Leonid Gurvits - RadioNet Project Scientist.
Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe.
Phone: +31 (0) 521 596514
Mobile: +31 (0) 629 015149