First point-to-point research network circuit between Europe and Africa enables astronomers to create a more detailed view of the universe
Radio astronomers in Africa and across the globe will benefit from faster collaboration through a dedicated, high speed 15,000 km network link between the pan-European GÉANT and African UbuntuNet Alliance education networks announced today.
The 2Gbps point-to-point circuit will enable astronomers at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in South Africa to stream observational data to the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE) in the Netherlands for processing and correlation, and is the first point-to-point circuit between GÉANT and UbuntuNet.
HartRAO, located in a valley in the Magaliesberg hills, 50 km west of Johannesburg, is the only major radio astronomy observatory in Africa. Through the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), it collaborates with radio telescopes on other continents to form a virtual telescope the size of the Earth.
Combining observations from multiple telescopes using VLBI allows more detailed observations of distant astronomical objects than with any other technique. Information is sent in real-time from radio telescopes around the world to JIVE, where these enormous volumes of simultaneous observation data are correlated to form high resolution images of cosmic radio sources.
The establishment of the point-to-point circuit is part of the European VLBI Network’s (EVN) e-EVN development programme for electronic VLBI (e-VLBI). This uses high speed research networks to transfer data for processing in real-time is an alternative to the traditional VLBI method of recording and shipping data on disk. e-VLBI enables observations of transient phenomena such as supernovae, using the highest resolution astronomical technique possible.
“This is collaborative research and education networking at its best,” said Dr F F (Tusu) Tusubira, CEO of the UbuntuNet Alliance. “Providing a point-to-point link between Hartebeesthoek and JIVE in the Netherlands benefits the entire global radio astronomy community, as it enables faster, more detailed observations to be shared in real-time and consequently dramatically increases our knowledge of the universe.”
The point-to-point circuit will seamlessly add the 26m telescope at Hartebeesthoek into the e-EVN array at the highest possible data rate. It will be used for a series of 10 observing sessions annually to observe targets that would benefit from the rapid turnaround that analysing the data in real time provides. The fast turnaround of results through the e-EVN enables decisions on further observations to be made whilst the astronomical event is still in progress, thereby enabling the study of more rapid transients, such as supernovae.
“This new link between Africa and Europe is the perfect example of close co-operation between research networks across the globe, working together to provide astronomers and scientists with the infrastructure they need to advance their work,” said Cathrin Stöver, Chief International Relations Officer, DANTE, the organisation which on behalf of Europe’s National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) has built and operates the GÉANT network. “As the first point-to-point link between Europe and Africa, it shows the truly global nature of research and should encourage even greater collaboration between the two continents moving forward.”
For the global radio astronomy community, adding HartRAO into the e-EVN array will improve the North/South resolving power, thereby allowing more detailed source structure to be seen, especially in the southern sky.
Research data gathered at HartRAO, a member institution of the South African national research and education network (NREN), TENET, flows in succession across the networks of TENET, UbuntuNet, GÉANT and Dutch NREN SURFnet.
GÉANT is the high speed European communication network dedicated to research and education. In combination with its NREN partners, GÉANT creates a secure, high-speed research infrastructure that serves 40 million researchers in over 8,000 institutions across 40 European countries. Building on the success of its predecessors, GÉANT has been created around the needs of users, providing flexible, end-to-end services that transform the way that researchers collaborate. GÉANT is at the heart of global research networking through wide ranging connections with other world regions, underpinning vital projects that bridge the digital divide and benefit society as a whole.
Co-funded by the European Commission under the EU’s 7th Research and Development Framework Programme, GÉANT is the e-Infrastructure at the heart of the EU’s European Research Area and contributes to the development of emerging Internet technologies. The project partners are 32 European National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), TERENA and DANTE. GÉANT is operated by DANTE on behalf of Europe’s NRENs.
About UbuntuNet Alliance
UbuntuNet Alliance is the regional Research and Education Network for East and Southern Africa. It is an Alliance of 13 NRENs in the region aiming at interconnecting with each other and connecting to other regional networks globally. The Alliance is also working towards enabling collaboration in research and education over world class networks. The Alliance was established in 2005 and registered in 2006 as a not-for-profit regional association of NRENs in Eastern and Southern Africa. It has participated in several EU FP7 projects and is committed to the role of the advanced networks in unlocking Africa’s intellectual potential by ensuring that African Researchers and Educators achieve equity with the rest of the world through equitable access to global knowledge infrastructure. The Alliance is working with DANTE on the implementation of the AfricaConnect project which builds on a proven relationship between Europe and sub-Sahara Africa.
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