What do telescopes in Puerto Rico, Germany, South Africa and Chile all have in common? They can all work together, to form one giant, 11,000 kilometer long virtual radio telescope.
When data from these (and three other) telescopes is brought together and sent to a central data correlator in The Netherlands, it effectively creates one large 'scope. Using a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), astronomers use multiple radio telescopes to simultaneously observe the same region of sky. The data collected by each telescope is sampled, synchronized and correlated for every possible pair of telescopes. Using very widely distributed telescopes sampling data at very high rates, this technique can generate images of cosmic radio sources with up to one hundred times better resolution than images from the best optical telescopes.
The system relies upon large volumes of data submitted simultaneously across several different networks, including tlanticWave, AMPATH, Centennial, DFN, Geant, Internet2, Netherlight, NGIX, RedCLARA, Reuna, SANReN, StarLight and TENET.
Once it reaches the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, or JIVE, the data was correlated in real-time, and results
were transmitted to Bruges, Belgium. Image courtesy of JIVE.