ECHO in West Virginia 

Dr. Danny Jacobs and his astounding team of undergraduate students (Ben Stinnett, Jacob Burba, and Lauren Turner) and graduate student Abraham Neben (MIT), have arrived in Green Bank, West Virginia for a week of field work at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory site. The highlight of the Green Bank site is the Green Bank Telescope, at 100m it is the world’s largest fully steerable dish and is used to hunt for pulsars and other exotic objects in deep space. However, this amazing telescope is not why the team is there; it is currently down for maintenance.

GBT

The 300′ Green Bank Telescope

The GBT being offline is actually a primary contributor to the field work being conducted right now, as this allows the team to generate radio noise with their instruments without disrupting other observations. The instrument in question is ECHO – the External Calibrator for Hydrogen Observatories. ECHO is an instrument developed by Dr. Jacobs in Professor Bowman’s Low frequency Cosmology lab at ASU to serve as a precision calibration source for new cosmology arrays. It uses a calibrated transmitting antenna mounted to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to provide a known reference signal for calibrating low-frequency antennas. ECHO team member Jacob Burba, physics major at ASU, explains that the “Calibration of Wide-field arrays has historically proven to be very difficult. Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle we’ll finally be able to control all of the variables and approach a new level of precision necessary for the desired cosmological measurements.  Plus: drones!.”

ECHO multirotor taking flight!

ECHO multirotor taking flight!

At the NRAO Green Bank Site, the team is testing their instrument for eventual use on the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), which is currently under construction in South Africa. When finished, HERA will have 300 individual 14m dishes packed together to form one of the largest single collecting areas in the world. Understanding this array presents a unique calibration problem which the team hopes to solve with their UAVs.

 

Spending their morning in the field to take advantage of the good weather, the team was able to make four successful flights over the HERA testbed, the data from which is currently being processed. Should the excellent flying weather continue, you can expect more flights throughout the week!

The ECHO team hard at work!

The ECHO team hard at work!

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