Development of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) techniques in New Zealand: Array simulation, image synthesis and analysis
Weston, Stuart Duncan
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This thesis presents the design and development of a process to model Very Long Base Line Interferometry (VLBI) aperture synthesis antenna arrays. In line with the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Institute for Radiophysics and Space Research (IRSR) aims to develop the knowledge, skills and experience within New Zealand, extensive use of existing radio astronomical software has been incorporated into the process namely AIPS (Astronomical Imaging Processing System), MIRIAD (a radio interferometry data reduction package) and DIFMAP (a program for synthesis imaging of visibility data from interferometer arrays of radio telescopes). This process has been used to model various antenna array configurations for two proposed New Zealand sites for antenna in a VLBI array configuration with existing Australian facilities and a passable antenna at Scott Base in Antarctica; and the results are presented in an attempt to demonstrate the improvement to be gained by joint trans-Tasman VLBI observation. It is hoped these results and process will assist the planning and placement of proposed New Zealand radio telescopes for cooperation with groups such as the Australian Long Baseline Array (LBA), others in the Pacific Rim and possibly globally; also potential future involvement of New Zealand with the SKA. The developed process has also been used to model a phased building schedule for the SKA in Australia and the addition of two antennas in New Zealand. This has been presented to the wider astronomical community via the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand Journal, and is summarized in this thesis with some additional material. A new measure of quality (“figure of merit”) for comparing the original model image and final CLEAN images by utilizing normalized 2-D cross correlation is evaluated as an alternative to the existing subjective visual operator image comparison undertaken to date by other groups. This new unit of measure is then used in the presentation of the results to provide a quantative comparison of the different array configurations modelled. Included in the process is the development of a new antenna array visibility program which was based on a Perl code script written by Prof Steven Tingay to plot antenna visibilities for the Australian Square Kilometre Array (SKA) proposal. This has been expanded and improved removing the hard coded fixed assumptions for the SKA configuration, providing a new useful and flexible program for the wider astronomical community. A prototype user interface using html/cgi/perl was developed for the process so that the underlying software packages can be served over the web to a user via an internet browser. This was used to demonstrate how easy it is to provide a friendlier interface compared to the existing cumbersome and difficult command line driven interfaces (although the command line can be retained for more experienced users).