Calley Tinsman, Correspondent

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has a number of radio telescopes and instruments scattered about the campus grounds. By means of a partnership with Arizona State University (ASU), work has begun on the most recent addition to the radio fleet: a single Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) dish.

ERAU faculty member Dr. Andri Gretarsson and students Hunter McCraw and Calley Tinsman collaborated with ASU’s Dr. Danny Jacobs and student Mickey over the weekend to commence the installation of the dish. The eight-hour work day allowed for the construction of most of the foundation of the dish. The workers erected nine 16-foot wooden posts, completed all concrete work, and built the center hub for the dish. Each collaborator left their mark somewhere in the concrete, whether it was their initials or a thumbprint.

There is still work left to be done. “We still need to do the framing for the rim; we need to add the [approximately] 25′ PVC spars (24 of them); then we need to add the mesh; and finally, we will construct and suspend the feed. Then we need to connect it to the observatory control room,” detailed Gretarsson. He hopes to finish building the dish before snowfall begins. Regardless, the main goal is to have the dish operational by the end of the year.

The initial objective of the HERA dish will be testing. This will allow researchers to develop an understanding of the limits of detection and discover instrumental imperfections. In turn, it will aid in the execution of the actual HERA Program’s latest project to expand its 64-telescope array situated in Karoo, South Africa to a 128-element array.

The HERA program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is highly significant in that it aims to probe the beginnings of the universe. Gretarsson provided some insight into the capabilities of this type of array: “HERA will be able to do an outstanding job of estimating the background power spectrum of hydrogen from high redshifts, specifically during the era of reionization. This allows us to visualize the structure of the universe during its toddler years.” Currently, little is known about this time period. However, this is expected to change as an increasing amount of interest is directed toward this area of study.

What does the addition of the HERA dish mean for ERAU students? According to Gretarsson, “It gives interested students access to an extremely sensitive radio receiver/antenna system.” What makes the HERA dish unique is that, as a long wavelength telescope, it allows researchers to observe astronomical targets that emit radiation at longer wavelengths, such as solar and Jupiter storms, ionospheric disturbances, and interstellar medium.

In addition to the HERA dish, there are a number of potential radio astronomy projects available to students. One project uses the 4.5-meter dish to observe the Doppler shift of galactic hydrogen signals to determine the galaxy’s rotational speed. Another project detects supernovae by listening for faint signals created by rapidly rotating supernova remnant cores with the Dipole Array Radio Telescope (DART). Students who wish to pursue research in radio astronomy are encouraged to speak with their professors to get involved.

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