A team of Australian researchers has found a way to use telcos’ optical fibre networks to synchronise radio telescopes.
Currently, synchronising individual radio telescopes in an array requires that each has access to an atomic clock — which can cost around $200,000 each, according to Professor Ken Baldwin, deputy director at the Australian National University Research School of Physics and Engineering.
Baldwin and researchers from the National Measurement Institute, Adelaide Uni, the CSIRO, and AARNet have published a paper in Optica detailing the use of a “real world” telco fibre link to synchronise radio telescopes located more than 100 kilometres apart.
The researchers used AARNet fibre that was carrying live data traffic to synchronise two sites: The Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) in north-west NSW and the Mopra radio telescope.
“The new technology we’ve developed could be particularly useful for the Square Kilometre Array, a global effort to detect faint radio waves from deep space with a sensitivity about 50 times greater than that of the Hubble telescope,” Baldwin said.
The technique outlined by the researchers is easy to implement and doesn’t require substantial changes to a fibre network, Baldwin said.
“By running the experiment on optical fibres also carrying normal traffic, we showed that transmitting the stable frequency standard doesn’t affect the data or telephone calls on the other channels.
“This is necessary to gain the cooperation of the telecommunications companies that own these fibre networks.”