Major upgrade prepares wizard telescopes for a good spell

29 May 2002

The UK’s 217 km MERLIN array of radio telescopes is undergoing a major upgrade. The array already has a resolution equivalent to that of the Hubble Space Telescope. But once the £2.4 million upgrade is completed, the array will be able to probe far deeper into the universe, achieving in 1 day what currently takes 3 years of continuous observations.

MERLIN, the Multi-Element Radio-Linked Interferometer Network, consists of seven radio telescopes stretching from the Welsh borders to Cambridge, giving the combined effect of a single giant radio telescope. The Lovell telescope, based at Jodrell Bank, is the cornerstone of the array.

The Lovell’s surface panels are currently being replaced by new galvanized steel plates. After this stage modern holographic profiling techniques will be used to optimize the new surface for wavelengths as small as 5 cm – four times shorter than at present. The work will increase the telescope’s sensitivity by a factor of 30.

A new control system is also being installed to improve the tracking of the stars and galaxies being observed as they move across the sky. This is important as the “beam” of the telescope becomes narrower at its new operating frequencies.

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