August 2017 Newsletter

Director's Corner

Michael Garrett

Since the last (and indeed first!) JBCA newsletter, a good deal of progress has been made in developing a vision for the future of e-MERLIN. Based on input from the community meeting towards the end of 2016, two joint (Manchester/Cambridge/Oxford) proposals were submitted  to STFC - one seeking to extend e-MERLIN operations for another 5 years (2018–2023) and another proposing an exciting upgrade path that would significantly enhance and extend the kind of science e-MERLIN can address. The operational programme also featured the addition of Goonhilly to the array (doubling the resolution and improving image fidelity on southern sources) and beam-forming of the Lovell Telescope and e-MERLIN together (creating a supersensitive telescope for Pulsars and the localisation of transient phenomena). Increasing the number of days of Lovell Telescope (LT) time within the e-MERLIN array was another feature of the operations proposal - currently the demand for e-MERLIN time that includes the LT is oversubscribed by more than a factor of x5. The upgrade programme would add receivers at both S and X-band, providing astronomers with near continuous frequency coverage between 1–24 GHz. Broad-banding of the data network would also permit 8GHz bandwidths, very desirable at the higher frequencies where the detection of faint thermal emission (for example, from proto-planetary disks) is one key driver. The replacement of the Defford Telescope with a spanking new, high-performance SKA dish has also been proposed – in addition to greatly improving the imaging performance of the array at frequencies > 5GHz, this antenna might also serve as an interesting platform to help test and develop new technology for subsequent SKA telescope upgrades e.g. new receivers etc. Last but not least, the upgraded array would adopt the SKA Science Data Processor analysis environment, making sure that e-MERLIN astronomers would be optimally placed to exploit the SKA once operational. 

Sir Mark Walport (first picture, left) and Dr. Brian Bowsher (second picture, left) visited Jodrell Bank in July 2017.

We recently had an opportunity to present the proposals to the Projects Peer Review Panel, and they have asked us to consider the various option combinations that might be possible within the upgrade plan – a e-MERLIN community workshop to discuss the various options and their priorities has been scheduled for 11-12 September 2017 – we encourage e-MERLIN users to attend – the meeting will also consider how the future evolution of e-MERLIN will also match up with the ambitions of the EVN (European VLBI Network) which is currently developing a roadmap for VLBI science in the next decade. The panel will make a site visit to Jodrell Bank in October with final recommendations expected towards the end of the year. 

Alongside these exciting developments, a review of radio astronomy in the UK has also been launched. The Radio Astronomy Review Panel (RARP), chaired by Prof. Ian Robson, will consider how to balance investment and resources across the various radio astronomy activities, as the community prepares itself for the scientific exploitation of the SKA. Naturally, we’re keen to see a good balance between SKA Design/Construction activities, investment in the e-MERLIN/VLBI national facility and the nurturing of a new generation of astronomers that will become the future leaders of SKA Key Science Projects. That requires a different approach to how investments are currently planned, and we welcome the more wholistic approach that the creation of the RARP signals. The outcome of the RARP will also influence the future evolution of e-MERLIN, and in particular the newly proposed development programme. 

In the background to all of this, significant changes are also taking place in how UK research as a whole is funded. The recent establishment of UKRI (UK Research & Innovation), and the vision laid out by its newly appointed CEO, Sir Mark Walport is an exciting one that we support and want to be part of. The connection between fundamental science and its economic/social impact is an important one, and JBCA is well placed to deliver on all of these different aspects – the Jodrell Bank site is particularly well placed, as it couples together the ambitions of the Observatory, the SKA HQ and the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre. Significant interest is also present in seeing an industrial/commercial component becoming present on site. More change is promised with the recent review of the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. Although the process of consultation has just started, the recommendation is to see a reduction in the number of schools, this would likely see the School of Physics & Astronomy (of which JBCA is a part), merging with another School. We can see many advantages to this proposal, not least the chance to see a more multi-disciplinary aspect to our teaching and research activities. A strong emphasis on multi-disciplinary research is also at the heart of the establishment of UKRI – many of the problems faced in the “real world” require this approach, and we’re interested to see how we can contribute to that vision. Related to that, we have invited Prof. Danielle George (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning) to establish a presence in the JBCA 4th floor labs in the Alan Turing Building. We hope to see Dan and her students making good use of the facilities there in the coming months, their expertise is LNAs and receivers is very complementary to the technical activities of our own CMB group. 

JBCA's Prof. Sarah Bridle presenting 'Seeing the Invisible: Observing the Dark Side of the Universe' at this year's Bluedot Festival. Photo Credit: A. Holloway. 

The importance of reaching out to the general public was recently reinforced by the highly successful Bluedot festival (see held at Jodrell Bank earlier this month. Around 12000 people visited the festival over the weekend to hear a mixture of science talks, music and witness other diverse forms of entertainment. Our staff and students were fully in the thick of it, giving talks to hundreds of people as they packed out the various venues. There was also great interest in the JBCA stand which was placed along side the SKA and STFC stands. Events like Bluedot remind us that we have a duty to communicate and enthuse the general public with the type of research we conduct, after all, they pay for it! 

More news includes progress with the Jodrell Bank Masterplan. Responses to tenders have been received to conduct a survey and pilot repair of the original Lovell Telescope (LT) surface, and tenders are being prepared for work to strengthen the telescope foundations and wheel girder structure. The total programme represents a £7M investment in the LT by the University of Manchester, with the full surface replacement scheduled for March 2018. This work will ensure that the scientific lifetime of the LT is extended by at least another 10 years, and well into the coming decade.

- Prof. Michael Garrett

Workshop II : e-MERLIN and the EVN in the SKA era

Dear colleagues,

We would like to invite you to attend a 1.5-day open workshop with two parts, the first part will discuss  future developments and science operations of the UK’s National Radio Astronomy Facility, e-MERLIN;  in the SKA era. The second part will discuss the future of the EVN (of which e-MERLIN forms an integral part). This will part of a series of planned meetings and other community engagement efforts,  to develop a future vision for the EVN as part the Jumping JIVE  EU funded project. The joint meeting will be held at the Jodrell Bank Observatory on 11-12th September 2017.

This workshop will initially be open to a limited number of attendees, in order to facilitate open discussion. It will comprise of scientific and technical presentations along with extended discussions and the opportunity for the community to input their priorities for future developments and operations of e-MERLIN. We expect a significant focus of the discussion to be on how e-MERLIN can benefit the UK community in preparing for and working with SKA early science; and how e-MERLIN and VLBI (especially the combined e-MERLIN+EVN array) can complement SKA1.


There will be no registration fee and we encourage attendance from any interested members of the community. Further details, including registration and abstract submission can be found at

In order to facilitate meeting practicalities and organisation please register before 1st September.

Members of the community at all career levels are welcome and there will be some  financial support for travel and/or accommodation for early career participants (provided by  RadioNet). If you require support please contact the LOC as soon as possible and by no later than Aug 15th. RadioNet is an European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under grant agreement No 730562.

The combination of e-MERLIN and the Lovell Telescope is a unique, world-class, suite of radio astronomical facilities providing high sensitivity, sub-arcsecond radio imaging, spectroscopic, and polarisation capabilities.  These existing facilities already provide an instrument comparable to SKA1-mid in terms of frequency coverage, resolution and bandwidth. In addition to these capabilities, we are currently developing a range of exciting, cost effective, new upgrade possibilities which will increase the frequency coverage, angular resolution, sensitivity along with state-of-the-art developments in software and analysis techniques.  These opportunities will both provide a world-class scientific facility in the UK and substantially strengthen the UK's ability to maximise its scientific return from the SKA.

This will be the second of a series of open meetings and workshops to allow the astronomical community to discuss and contribute to the future developments and operations of the UK’s National Radio Astronomy Facility, e-MERLIN. Input from the first meeting permitted us to submit two proposals to STFC, the first of these seeks to secure the operations of e-MERLIN for a 5 year period (2018-2023) and the second aims to implement a development programme that would greatly enhance the capability of the array, including:

  • Early implementation and development of the SKA imaging pipeline for rapid science output and to train the community
  • Full frequency coverage 1-16 GHz + 20-24 GHz with new 2-4 GHz and 8-16 GHz receivers
  • Up to 8 GHz/polarization bandwidth
  • Full inclusion of the Lovell Telescope, with a new phased array feed at 1-4 GHz
  • Improved imaging quality and resolution with Goonhilly and a new telescope at Defford

This second workshop will provide an update the community regarding the status of these developments and to discuss how they can be phased/prioritised.

The European VLBI Network (EVN) is a world-leading instrument and one of the most sensitive VLBI arrays over a broad range of frequencies available with a wide range of science and technical capabilities. The UK is one of the founding members of the EVN and e-MERLIN/JBO telescopes are a major component of this facility. On-going technical and capability improvements to the EVN, including the integration of e-MERLIN telescopes as a ‘short-spacing’ component, the recent incorporation of new large telescopes (e.g. 64-m Sardinia and 65-m Tianma telescopes), increased real-time and broader-band operations continue to enhancing the EVN’s capabilities.  Our discussions on the future of e-MERLIN and its relation to the EVN will provide important feedback for a yet wider community exercise to outline the role of the EVN in the scientific landscape of the next decade, an effort led by JIVE and supported by the Horizon-2020 programme, Jumping JIVE.

UK strategic radio review:

STFC’s Science Board have recently instigated a ‘UK Radio Astronomy Review Panel’ (RARP) to review the UK’s strategy  landscape in radio astronomy.  The panel chair Prof Ian Robson will be providing an overview of the work of this panel, which will look at the role of precursor and pathfinder instruments such as e-MERLIN and the EVN in supporting early science with SKA1.

Input to RARP: 

As part of the review process, the Panel wish to consult the Community and is particularly interested to receive input on how STFC could best support research and development in preparation for early science with the SKA.  RARP are inviting input from all members of the community and request that you please submit your views via the short questionnaireClosing date for responses to this questionnaire is 21stAugust 2017.

With kind regards

Rob Beswick

On behalf of the SOC and the e-MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

JBCA staff in Africa training the next generation of Radio Astronomers

The UK-EU-African collaboration continues to help develop Radio Astronomy in Africa, and the African VLBI Network of telescopes.

JBCA’s African Odyssey continue... Over the last few months a number of staff and post-graduate students from JBCA have travelled to several sub-Saharian African countries to provide advanced training for staff and students in radio astronomy and interferometry. Each of these ‘African odysseys’ has been a true voyage of discovery for both the lectures and tutors from Manchester and the students who come from countries stretching from Zambia to Ghana and are receiving their first introductions into radio astronomy! The recognised world-leading technical, operational and scientific expertise in radio astronomy and interferometry of JBCA and JBO has meant that it is taking a preeminent role in these projects contribution to all aspects of the organisation, course development and training, as well as technical developments.

Ghanaian and Kenyan Students JUMPING at the training opportunties - Kutunse, Ghana, April 2017

In just the last few months this has seen JBCA group members teaching students in Kenya (Peter & Althea Wilkinson, Minnie Mao & Hayden Ramparadarth), Zambia (Jack Radcliffe) and Ghana (Tom Scragg, Ben Stappers and Alastair Gunn), as well as drawing on JBCA technical expertise to help design, build and commission instrumental infrastructure and resources at the newly operational 32-m radio telescope in Ghana.    

The DARA (Developing African Radio Astronomy) scheme also helps brightest and best of these students trained (over 300 students will involved over the next 4 years of the project from 8 different countries) to progress into fully-funded PhD and MScR positions in the UK. At JBCA we already host two Ghanaian PhD students who have come through the DARA programme and are working toward their PhD in Pulsars, and Star-formation, with more due to join JBCA in the coming year.‌

Above Left: Peter extolling the wonders of Radio astronomy in Kenya.
Above Right: Hayden taking a well-earned break and broadening the demographics of his outreach audience…

This new EU-UK-African collaboration is providing an important framework for the development of the AVN and its future operations with the EVN and ultimately the SKA. The future formation of the AVN, via the refurbishment of ex-communication dishes along with new-build telescopes, is internationally recognised as a vital part of the world’s astronomy infrastructure and will boost the sensitivity and resolution of global VLBI networks, especially for targets in the Southern celestial hemisphere. The work of both JUMPING JIVE and DARA to develop the human resources in African countries is a vital step toward the realisation and sustainability of this goal. 

Realising the instruments

As recently announced in a joint press-release from Government ministers of both Ghana and South Africa, the work of these projects is now being realised with the first giant leaps toward the scientific operations of the AVN. 

As reported in July (see Press release 5th July) the 32-m telescope in Kutunse, Ghana has now achieved the first successful detection of fringes during a VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) test experiment with the European VLBI Network (EVN). The experiment is just one of three positive ‘first-light’ detections, with the other two successes including methanol maser detection and pulsar observations – using hardware and expertise supplied by the JBCA Pulsar group.

Kutunse, Ghana: Work to convert the 32-m former telecommunication dish into a radio telescope

These activities is jointly supported via the £2.75M STFC Newton funded ‘Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy’ and as part of the nearly 3MEuro EU Horizon 2020 funded JUMPING JIVE infrastructure consortium project, via the work package ‘Capacity for VLBI in Africa’ which is coordinated in Rob Beswick (JBCA/e-MERLIN).

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 730884.

Breakthrough Initiatives and Jodrell Bank launch new collaboration in search for intelligent life beyond Earth

Breakthrough Initiatives and The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at The University of Manchester announced a new partnership to search for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth.

Breakthrough Listen, the most comprehensive scientific search for intelligent life ever launched, will share information with Jodrell Bank’s team, who wish to conduct an independent SETI search via its 76-m radio telescope and e-MERLIN array.

As part of a growing international collaboration of astronomers and observing facilities focused on SETI, the collaboration will openly exchange observing plans, search methods and data, including the rapid sharing of any promising new signal made by either party for additional observation and analysis by the other. The two teams are planning a series of meetings and conferences to refine search strategies, data analyses and results.

Left-to-right: Steve Watts (Head of Physics & Astronomy, Manchester), Simon Garrington (Associate Director, JBO), Leonid Solovyev (Director of Operations, Breakthrough Prize Foundation), Pete Klupar (Director of Engineering, Breakthrough Initiatives), Mike Garrett (Director, JBCA)

At a signing ceremony in Manchester, England, the collaboration was announced via a joint statement by Michael Garrett, Director of The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, and Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering for the Breakthrough Initiatives.

“Jodrell Bank is a superb observatory with an outstanding track record of astronomical discoveries,” said Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering for the Breakthrough Initiatives, “We are proud to be working with them to focus on one of the great unsolved questions in science.”

According to Prof. Michael Garrett, “the opportunity to work directly with colleagues involved in Breakthrough Listen is an important step forward in getting the UK back into the SETI business”.

Last October, the Breakthrough Initiatives announced a collaboration with the FAST telescope in China. With this latest development, the observatories collaborating on SETI searches now spans four continents.

The Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics operates the 76-m Lovell Telescope and the e-MERLIN array. Currently, there are proposals to upgrade the e-MERLIN telescope, expanding its frequency range in order to permit observations of proto-planetary disks and to enable the simultaneous detection and localization of transient sources, including potential SETI signals.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a set of long-term astronomical programs exploring the Universe, seeking scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encouraging public debate from a planetary perspective. Breakthrough Listen, launched in July 2015, is the most comprehensive astronomical search for intelligent life ever undertaken. It employs two of the world’s biggest radio telescopes: the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA, and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia; as well as the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in California, USA, which searches for laser signals.

Jodrell Bank | Leadership

  • Michael Garrett, Sir Bernard Lovell chair of Astrophysics, Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester.

Breakthrough Listen | Project Leadership

  • Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge.
  • Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation.
  • Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering, Breakthrough Initiatives.
  • Frank Drake, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute; Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz; Founding Director, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; Former Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University.
  • Dan Werthimer, Co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project; director of SERENDIP; principal investigator for CASPER.
  • Andrew Siemion, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center.

Measuring Star Formation in the Radio, Millimetre, and Submillimetre

On the 24th through 26th of July, the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics hosted the Measuring Star Formation in the Radio, Millimetre, and Submillimetre meeting. This meeting brought together over 50 researchers from multiple countries to discuss recent advances in studying star formation in a wide variety of locations ranging from within the Milky Way Galaxy to other nearby galaxies to galaxies in the high-redshift universe.

Measuring Star Formation
Attendees of the Measuring Star Formation in the Radio, Millimetre, and Submillimetre meeting. Credit: A. Holloway.

Multiple talks at the meeting featured research results from e-MERLIN, including observations of individual supernovae remnants and AGN in nearby ultraluminous infrared galaxies as well as images of the radio emission from high-redshift galaxies imaged in the eMERGE survey. Other talks discussed results from a diverse range of telescopes on topics including the identification of and separation of synchrotron, free-free emission, and dust emission in galaxies' spectral energy distributions; the use of infrared, submillimetre, and millimetre spectral line emission to measure star formation rates, initial mass functions, and metallicity; the comparison of infrared and radio emission in a wide range of objects; the identification of AGN within galaxies; and the relation between molecular gas and star formation.

While the results from this meeting show that a lot of progress has been made in this field, it is clear that a new era in researching star formation in the radio, millimetre, and submillimetre bands is entering a new era of research. Many new advances can come from telescopes currently in operation, such as ALMA, e-MERLIN, and LOFAR, as well as telescopes that will become operational in the near future, such as the SKA.

Bluedot 2017

From 7th – 9th July, Jodrell Bank welcomed thousands of festival goers to Bluedot, our annual celebration of science, discovery, live music, and cosmic culture. The award-winning festival was back for its second outing with a packed programme of exhibits, talks, experiments, live performances and artistic interventions. It was a truly mind-expanding and inspiring weekend and we can’t quite believe its all over!

Photography by Howard Barlow

Volunteer staff and students from JBCA were out in force across the weekend, presenting exhibitions, workshops and talks - promoting our research to thousands of attendees. A big thank you to everyone involved!

Photography by Ant Holloway

Six structures at Jodrell Bank given heritage protection

The 38m (124.6ft) Mark II Telescope - now a Grade I listed structure. Credit: M. Peel. 

The Mark II Telescope has been given Grade I listing, the highest form of protection - joining the iconic Lovell Telescope which was listed at Grade I in 1988. Other structures now listed are:

- the Control Building (control for Lovell Telescope)
- the Cosmic Noise Hut (Link Hut as it is now known; control room for 30-ft telescope; site of Hanbury Brown and Twiss' famous intensity interferometer experiment)
- the Electrical Workshop (original main offices including Lovell's office)
- Park Royal (control room for Transit Telescope and Mark II Telescope)
- the remains of the searchlight aerial (earliest remains of a scientific instrument at Jodrell and linking radio astronomy back to wartime radar)

You can read more about this in the article on Historic England's website, including details on the individual listings : 

CO Mapping Array Pathfinder (COMAP) Collaboration

The CO Mapping Array Pathfinder (COMAP) will open a new window on both the Epoch of Reionization (EoR) and the Epoch of Galaxy Assembly by using carbon monoxide (CO) lines to trace the distribution of star-forming galaxies in both epochs. Phase I of COMAP comprises a 10-m telescope, located at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), equipped with a 19-pixel, dual polarization spectrometer array that will map a total of 10 square degrees of sky in the frequency range 30-34 GHz, with spectral resolution R~800. This band will be sensitive to CO(1-0) in the redshift slice z=2.4-2.8 and to CO(2-1) in the redshift slice z = 5.8-6.7.

The CARMA array. This was a group of telescopes at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), near Bishop, northern California, but has been largely decommissioned. COMAP will utilise one of these 10.4m diameter high frequency telescopes for the pathfinder instrument that will operate over the next 2-3 years. If successful, COMAP will eventually use several telescopes installed with focal plane detector arrays.

Prof. Clive Dickinson and Dr. Stuart Harper from the JBCA group are leading the simulations work for the COMAP experiment. The JBCA group have developed a full end-to-end parallel intensity mapping pipeline that can simulate observations with large detector arrays, various types of noise and foreground emission, systematic errors, calibration, map-making, component separation and cosmological likelihood analyses to name just a few! With a sensitive focal plane detector array, and surveying a small patch (few sq. deg.) of sky for several years to detect faint CO in galaxies at high redshift, end-to-end simulations will be vital in understanding COMAP data. 

COMAP is currently the leading CO mapping experiment in the world, which ultimately will be achieved with the SKA in about a decades time.

The photo is of the COMAP collaboration at a dinner in Oslo, 19-21 June 2017. The project is a collaboration between Caltech, Stanford University, JPL, University of Maryland, University of Miami, University of Oslo and The University of Manchester.

Jets, Arcs and Shocks: NGC 5195 at radio wavelengths

Hayden Rampadarath

Once every couple of hundred million years, the galaxy NGC 5195 falls into the outer arms of its larger companion, NGC 5194 (The Whirlpool galaxy). This is because for billions of years, both galaxies have been locked in a gravitational dance that will result - billions of years in the future - in the formation of a single galaxy. 

As NGC 5195 plunges into NGC 5194, matter is streamed towards the supermassive black hole (SMBH, 19 million solar masses) at NGC 5195’s centre. This has a number of consequences: matter is “dumped” onto the SMBH, causing the formation of an accretion disc; eventually, as the disk grows, the SMBH can no longer accrete efficiently. The immense forces and pressures that occur within the region then push matter out into the interstellar medium (ISM), creating an event of galactic proportions that is observed across the electromagnetic spectrum. In 2016, Schegel et al observed the result of this event as a pair of X-ray and ionised Hydrogen (H-alpha) arcs, and described it asresulting from the “force-feeding” of the SMBH of NGC 5195. 

Left: NASA APOD image ( of the Whirlpool galaxy.

Right: False colour rgb image of NGC 5195 via combining the VLA 20 cm radio image (red), the Chandra X-ray image (green), and the Hubble Space telescope H-alpha image (blue). The image shows the X-ray and H-alpha arcs, as well as the radio outflows from the SMBH. Right inset: e-MERLIN maps of the nuclear region of NGC 5195 at 1.4 GHz (left) and 5 GHz (right). The images display a partially resolved source with possible parsec-scale outflows.

Recently, high-resolution images from the e-MERLIN array have revealed, embedded within the core of NGC 5195,  parsec-scaled outflows of matter from the nuclear SMBH that are the driving mechanism of the kilo-parsec scale outflows and arcs visible in the lower-resolution VLA images. Comparing the VLA images to X-ray (Chandra) and H-alpha (HST) images, shows that are they are not only connected, but that the radio outflows are in fact the progenitors of the X-ray and H-alpha structures. 

As matter is forced out from the disk surrounding the SMBH via a shock wave, electrons are accelerated close to the speed of light causing them to emit energy at radio wavelengths as they interact with the magnetic field of the ISM. This shock wave then inflates and heats up the ISM, which emits in the X-ray as well as stripping the electrons from surrounding neutral Hydrogen atoms, creating the beautiful H-alpha arcs detected by Schegel et al. 

The age of the arcs in NGC5195 is 1-2 million years. Thus while the first traces of the matter were being forced out of the blackhole in this system, our ancestors were learning to make fire. 


Jodrell Bank Observatory hosts a visit from the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid community

On 22nd June 2018, members of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG)vcollaboration visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory as part of the annual WLCG workshop, which was hosted by the University of Manchester.

The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid project is a global collaboration of more than 170 computing centres in 42 countries, linking up national and international grid infrastructures. The mission of the WLCG project is to provide global computing resources to store, distribute and analyse the of data generated by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

The observatory visit was preceded by three days of presentations and discussions that included cross-community perspectives on the future development of the WLCG and how plans for a European SKA Data Centre, being designed by the AENEAS project, could benefit from and support that development, as well as learn from the experience of the WLCG community. The UK and the University of Manchester are playing a leading role in the AENEAS project, contributing to the design of processing, storage and networking within the proposed data centre, as well as defining the scientific ambitions that the centre will support.

A full list of the presentations from the meeting is here.

JBCA and Mozilla Science Lab Partner in Doctoral Training

As astronomy moves into the Big Data era, with next generation facilities such as LOFAR and JVLA already producing datasets that routinely run to tera-bytes, the ability of researchers to reproduce results from the literature, as well as providing transparency in their own research methodologies, is becoming increasingly important. Reproducibility is a key component of the scientific method and although astronomy has been a leading field in the area of Open Access, with the arXiv leading the way in making scientific results available to the whole community, the wider principles of working open: Open Data, Open Source and Open Processing have been slower to catch up.

Dr Rachael Ainsworth, our new Open Science Champion

The 4IR Data Intensive Science CDT is a collaboration between the Universities of Manchester, Lancaster and Sheffield, and includes both the School of Physics & Astronomy and the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester. The mission of this new CDT is to develop future leaders in the data intensive methodologies underpinning both modern science and the fourth industrial revolution. Research projects in the 4IR CDT will focus on data intensive aspects of cutting edge research across Astrophysics, Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics, and will include placements with partner organisations in the commercial, industrial or private sectors in order to look at the wider applications of data driven research outside a University setting.To support future generations of scientists in working open the new 4IR Centre for Doctoral Training, lead by the University of Manchester, has partnered with the Mozilla Science Lab in order to provide assessed training in working open to the next generation of PhD students. Mozilla is one of the world's largest Open Source projects and has a manifesto that highlights transparent community-based processes to promote participation, accountability and trust. The Mozilla Science Lab is a community of researchers, developers, and librarians making research open and accessible. To support our students and staff in learning how to work open, the JBCA Interferometry Centre of Excellence has also appointed a new Open Science Champion, Dr Rachael Ainsworth, who will work with Mozilla and the research community to promote and facilitate Open Science training.

Together Mozilla Science Lab and the 4IR CDT will ensure that students trained through the program will not only become experts in data intensive research, but that they will also have the tools to enable them to become leaders in Open Science, ensuring the maximum potential from next generation data intensive science.

Astronomers find black hole in Sagittarius constellation

An international team of astronomers led by The University of Manchester have found evidence of a new ‘missing-link’ black hole in the Milky Way galaxy, hidden in the Sagittarius constellation.

The black hole is located approximately 26,000 light years, or 7.9 Kiloparsecs (kpc), from Earth in a globular cluster called, NGC 6624. A globular cluster is a gravitationally bound swarm of millions of old stars occupying regions that are just a few light years across.

The team, led by Benetge Perera, have found evidence that the millisecond pulsar (PSR B1820-30A) – a pulsar is highly magnetized, rapidly rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation – in NGC 6624 is most likely orbiting around an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) located at the cluster’s centre. The mass of black hole is so big, it is the equivalent to weight of 7,500 of our suns.

PSR B1820 30A is the closest-known pulsar to the centre of any globular cluster and it is the first pulsar to be found orbiting a black hole. The detection of IMBHs is extremely important as they can help astronomers understand the ‘missing link’ between stellar mass black holes (SMBH), the smallest kind, and supermassive black holes (SMBH), which are the largest.

NGC 6624
NGC 6624

Dr Perera, from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, explains: ‘High stellar densities towards the centre of globular clusters provide a likely environment for the formation of massive black holes. The detection of IMBHs is important for understanding the missing link between the different kinds of black holes.'

‘It is generally thought that they could be formed by the direct collapse of very massive primordial stars or successive mergers of stellar-mass black holes and runaway collisions in dense young star clusters.’

The pulsar was discovered using the Lovell Telescope, based at Jodrell Bank, in 1990. Since then the team has analysed more than 25 years of observations from PSR B1820- 30A made with the telescope. In addition to Jodrell Bank, the analysis included data obtained using the Nançay Radio Telescope in France.

Professor Andrew Lyne, also from the School of Physics and Astronomy, explains the importance of discovering such pulsars: ‘Pulsars like PSR B1820 30A act as fantastically accurate clocks and allow us to determine precisely their distance from the Earth in the same way that global positioning satellites work. The pulsar is therefore very sensitive to any motion arising from the gravity of other nearby massive objects, such as black holes, making it easier for us to detect them.’

Dr Perera added: ‘We have determined the orbital parameters and the companion mass of PSR B1820-30A from the motion measured through pulsar timing. Simply put, this means our results are consistent with the pulsar being in orbit around a central intermediate-mass black hole.

‘This discovery provides important input to our understanding of how intermediate-mass black holes and the clusters themselves form and evolve.’

Recent JBCA Graduates

Congratulations to the JBCA postgraduate students who have recently completed their PhDs. Including...

Sally Cooper

Sally Cooper
Sally and other members of JBCA's Pulsar Group

My PhD concentrated on searching for pulsars, the dense cores of dead stars that spin rapidly. They can be used to test theories of gravity and future prospects include using them to detect gravitational waves.

To date approximately 2500 pulsars have been discovered but we estimate that 20,000 are detectable. In order to fully understand the entire family of pulsars the search for pulsars must continue. My research concentrated on analysing data from the LOFAR Tied Array All Sky (LOTAAS) survey for pulsars and transients using the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR) in the Netherlands.

My work contributed the first 20 pulsars discovered in this survey and their pulse properties. In addition, I analysed data from the High Time Resolution Universe pulsar survey with the Parkes Telescope in Australia and discovered another 6 pulsars. As technology advances so does the data output of pulsar surveys and I also developed machine learning techniques to classify pulsar candidates.

During my PhD I also worked on the citizen science Pulsar Hunter Zooniverse project on BBC Stargazing Live.

Sally Cooper 3
The region of sky searched by both the LOTAAS and HTRU pulsar surveys and the contribution of pulsars by this thesis.

David Cuadrado-Calle

David Cuadrado-Calle

David Cuadrado-Calle has recently completed his PhD degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, working in a joint project between the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (with Prof. Gary Fuller) and the School of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (with Prof. Danielle George). His PhD thesis is titled “Millimetre-Wave Low Noise Amplifiers for the ALMA Telescope”.

Recent advancements in transistor technology, such as the 35 nm InP pHEMT, allow for the development of Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs) with performance properties that challenge the hegemony of Superconductor-Insulator-Superconductor (SIS) mixers as leading radio astronomy detectors at frequencies as high as 116 GHz. In particular, for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), this technical advancement allows the combination of two previously defined bands, 2 (67–90 GHz) and 3 (84–116 GHz), into a single ultra-broadband 2+3 (67–116 GHz) receiver.

This project is encompassed within an international collaboration led by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is working on the development of a band 2+3 receiver prototype for ALMA. During his PhD, David has designed, developed and characterised the first cryogenic LNAs in the world capable of operating in the frequency range of ALMA band 2+3, with a noise performance better than the ALMA receiver specifications for both individual bands 2 and 3.

The best LNAs reported in this work feature a noise temperature less than 28 K from 70 GHz to 110 GHz, which is typically designated as W-band, setting a new record for low noise performance. These excellent results provide evidence of the feasibility of the merge, and pave the way for the development of a new generation of ultra-broadband receivers of great interest for future radio astronomy. Moreover, the LNAs reported in this work, can also be suitable for other non-astronomical applications such as millimetre-wave imagers or automotive radars, for which demand is growing. 

David Cuadrado-Calle - LNA
LNA for ALMA band 2+3

James McKee 

James McKee 2

‌My Ph.D. research was on pulsar timing, which is a technique that exploits the remarkable rotational stability of pulsars, and allows them to be used as 'cosmic clocks' in precision astrophysics experiments.

In my thesis, "High-Precision Pulsar Timing", I have used 30 years of observations of the Crab Pulsar with Jodrell Bank Observatory's 42-ft and Lovell telescopes to measure long-term variations of dispersion and scattering, caused by ionised matter in the Crab Nebula. I have used these measurements to improve the timing precision of the Crab pulsar, and to constrain the size of density variations within the nebula.

Using timing data from the European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA), together with earlier data from the Lovell telescope, I have measured variations in the ionised interstellar medium along the line of sight to 31 millisecond pulsars, and explored techniques for removing their impact on timing precision.

I have also used this data set to identify a small change in spin-frequency (known as a 'glitch') of one of these pulsars, J0613-0200. This glitch is the smallest that has been detected in any pulsar to date, and only the second to be observed in a millisecond pulsar.

I have searched for so-called 'giant pulses' (extremely bright single pulses that appear to be caused by a different mechanism to the ordinary emission) in observations of PSR B1937+21 taken with the Large European Array for Pulsars (LEAP). In doing so, I have compiled the largest-ever sample of giant pulses for this pulsar, which I have used to measure the properties of pulses from single rotations, and to explore the possibility of timing the pulsar using giant pulses.

James McKee 1

Matthew Robinson

One of the main observational targets of the Cosmology community is the B-mode polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background, a unique spatial pattern imprinted on the first radiation ever emitted in the Universe.  Its observation is significant because it provides evidence to support inflation, a key theory in our model of the Universe.  Its detection has so far eluded the world’s most advanced telescopes including ESA’s space-based observatory; Planck.  My PhD focused on developing new components for the next generation of telescopes to bring us closer to measuring this signal.

The B-mode polarisation is an extremely weak signal and current telescopes are not sensitive enough to measure it.  Astrophysical sources such as the galaxy, and the telescope itself, also induce signals which swamp the target B-mode signal making it even more difficult to measure.  Careful design of the telescope is therefore required to ensure that we maximise the sensitivity whilst minimising the induced signals from the telescope.   

Telescope sensitivity can be achieved by adding more detectors.  However, previous generation technology such as corrugated feedhorn coupled bolometers, which are relatively large, heavy and expensive to manufacture, are unsuitable moving forwards where they will be required in large quantities.  My PhD has developed a new technology; a planar antenna coupled mesh lens.  The technology is small, lightweight and mass-producible using common clean room techniques.  A comparison of the planar antenna coupled mesh lens with a corrugated horn antenna is shown below (to scale).  I developed the first prototypes of the new technology, working on the design, the fabrication and the testing in our labs at JBCA.  The work was conducted with a collaboration of institutes from across Europe and funded by the European Space Agency.

Comparison of the size improvement with the planar antenna coupled mesh lens. One of the fabricated planar antennas.
Simulation of the planar antenna coupled mesh lens.

The Jodcast, March-July 2017

Our award winning astronomy podcast continues to entertain the world with all things astronomy. Check out the recent episodes since our last newsletter:


Jodcast July 2017

July 2017

Non-responsive. In the show this time, we talk to Dr. Adam Amara about A holistic approach to cosmology, Mat Malenta rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the July night sky from Ian Morison and Claire Bretherton.

‌‌Jodcast June 2017

June 2017

Cosmic Sneezing. In the show this time, we talk to Thomas Tauris about compact stars, pulsars and outreach, Ian Evans rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the June night sky from Ian Morison and Haritina Mogosanu.

 Jodcast May Extra 2017

May 2017 Extra

For whom the skies burst. In the show this time, Dr Elisabetta Valiante talks to us about the Herschel-ATLAS survey, Josh Hayes and James Stringer tell us about multi-band searches for fast radio bursts and your astronomical questions are answered by Iain in Ask an Astronomer.

 Jodcast May 2017

May 2017

Rebuilt to be better, stronger... but not faster. In the show this time, we talk to Prof. Ian Morison about being Ian Morison, Ian Harrison rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the May night sky from Ian Morison and Claire Bretherton.

 Jodcast April Extra 2017

April 2017 Extra

All Hope In Eclipse. In the show this time, Dr Stefan Soldner-Rembold talks to us about the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, Dr. Amit Tagore tells us about weak gravitational lensing and your astronomical questions are answered by George in Ask an Astronomer.

 Jodcast April 2017

April 2017

Going Radio Gaga. In the wake of some sad news, we talk to Dr. Alessandro Navarrini about new technologies for radio telescopes, Mateusz Malenta rounds up the latest news, we find out what we can see in the April night sky from Ian Morison and Claire Bretherton, and we clear up some loose ends.

 Jodcast March Extra 2017

March 2017 Extra

FOUR FOUR SIX ZERO. Recently, the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics hosted the UK SETI Reseach Network meeting and we were waiting around corners and outside doors, trying to catch unsuspecting alien hunters to interview. We managed! In the show this time, we interview Jamie Drew and Danny Price from the Breakthrough Initiatives, author Stephen Baxter joins us to talk about the interface between science and science-fiction and Mat Malenta tackles your questions on the speed of light. We are also joined by a special guest presenter, Director of JBCA and alien hunter, Prof. Mike Garrett. 

 Jodcast March 2017

March 2017

Habitable and Earth-like. In the show this time, we talk to Prof Marten van Kerkwijk about pulsar scintellometry, Ian Harrison rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the March night sky from Ian Morison and Claire Bretherton.

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