Day 1

After a +14 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean, another flight across the entire Australian continent, and an 8 hour drive north of Perth to Boolardy Station– it’s been one heck of a ride. After a good night’s rest and a delicious meat-lover’s breakfast, we were on our way to the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) site.

Only a half-hour drive from Boolardy Station, the site is 41 km away from our home base. Along with being the home of the EDGES and DARE projects, it also hosts the Australian Square Kilometer Array Precursor (ASKAP). This array consists of numerous mushroom-looking dish satellites that provide for great scenery while we snaked through the small dirt roads.

DARE Antenna with ASKAP dishes in the background

 

Once we arrived to the EDGES/DARE site, we immediately went to inspect the hut that holds the electronics and computers.  The team had arranged this trip to hunt down the reason why EDGES and DARE had been producing some buggy data.

The weather was reminiscent of the Arizona summer heat.  Cloudless, dry, and with the omnipresent sun shinning down with all of its power.  Without the shrubs, the terrain seemed that of the Martian surface – colonized by the various huts and buildings that the CSIRO had established.

The first order of business was to set take a spectra of the antenna with our (handy) spectrum analyzer. This is done to establish a baseline of the signal distribution, which is used to compare with later samples.   By using the process of elimination, we go through the wiring as well as the RF chain to see what would cause the larger problem.   Since the issue is intermittent, which is to say that it occurs sporadically, it is quite challenging to find the culprit that is damaging the data quality.

Discussing the spectrum measurements

 

In order to prevent the weather from damaging the DARE system, it was housed in a foam box.  We needed to remove the outer part of the box and, while seeming rather easy to do, this proved to be quite a challenging problem so solve.   The team tried to remove the L-brackets without damaging the foam but the foam on the bottom edge seemed like it had melted on the bottom plate and was consequently too strong to remove. A few methods were tried but in the end we were not able to remove the box without damaging the sides. After we tried everything that appeared to be the simplest ways to remove structure, we decided to regroup and attack the problem again tomorrow with some different tools and during a cooler part of the day.

In an equal but opposite contrast, the food at the station was quite amazing.  Not unlike the cuisine one would find at a fine restaurant – it was something to keep our day on a positive note. Dinner was lamb braised with fresh fava beans over couscous, roasted vegetable salad, and something called “lemon delicious” for dessert.

Although at many times this day might have appeared as an uphill battle, we learned a lot about what things to do differently.  In science, it’s equally important to know why things don’t work just as much as why they do.

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