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From Jupiter's Moons to Exploding Black Holes: New LIU Radio Telescope for Astrophysics Research

Only one of its kind on the East Coast, the four-antenna array will observe phenomena from our own solar system and distant galaxies; science and education majors received support from NASA


Morgan Lyle,Assistant Director of Public Relations
LIU Post, Long Island University

Brookville, N.Y. -- A new radio telescope installed at a Long Island University campus will scan the sky for everything from solar flares to exploding black holes. Assembled and operated by current and former LIU Brooklyn students with funding from NASA, the instrument is the only one of its kind in the eastern United States.

Perched on a hillside near the Fine Arts Building at the LIU Post campus in Brookville, away from the radio interference of New York City, the ASTRA (All Sky Transient Radio Array) will search for high-energy cosmic events such as supernovas, gamma ray bursts and merging neutron stars, as well conducting joint observations with other radio telescopes around the country to confirm or rule out the validity of signals from space.

The first antenna, installed last week, will have the capacity to detect events within the solar system, such as bursts of the sun's magnetic field or the signals produced by Jupiter and its moons. When complete, the four-antenna array will capture signals from far-flung galaxies, said Michael Kavic, assistant professor of physics at LIU Brooklyn, who is supervising the project.

Unlike optical telescopes, which can only observe the slice of sky they face, radio telescopes are able to detect signals from anywhere in the sky above the horizon.

"One great thing about the latest generation of radio telescopes is they can see astronomical events which occur at great distances even if they only last for a short time," Kavic said. "These are cutting-edge instruments."

Four current and former LIU Brooklyn students have helped assemble the telescope and the computer cluster that will record the data it collects. Amanda Larracuente of Brooklyn, a graduate biology student, compiled research on such phenomena as exploding black holes. Nickisha Barrett of Brooklyn, who graduated from the M.S. Ed. in childhood education this summer, assembled the telescope's receiver (and said her experience would help her in teaching elementary school science.) Leandro Quezada, a senior computer science major from the Bronx, assembled a computer cluster capable of storing over 50 terrabytes of data. George Zaky of Brooklyn, a graduate pharmacy student, was responsible for the construction of the ASTRA at LIU Post.

Three of the students received funding from NASA's IMPRESS-Ed (Interdisciplinary Modules as Pre-service Research Experiences for Secondary STEM Educators ) program. The fourth was supported by a grant from LIU Brooklyn.

Research on solar bursts can help protect equipment like satellites and GPS systems, while examining the signals from Jupiter interacting with its moons' magnetic fields can help scientists spot planets in other solar systems. More distant subjects such as gamma ray bursts, the most energetic explosive events in the Universe, are "inherently interesting," Kavic said, and radio telescopes can directly observe high-energy phenomena, such as explosive outbursts from a mini-black hole wrapped around an extra spatial dimension or the snap of a superconducting cosmic string, that simply cannot be simulated with devices like particle accelerators.

The radio telescope is owned and operated by Long Island University, but Kavic collaborates on research with colleagues at Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland and the Naval Research Laboratory.

LIU has also been awarded 836 hours of observing time over the next three years on the Long Wavelength Array, a 256-antenna radio telescope in New Mexico.

Kavic, who holds a Ph.D. in physics from Virginia Tech, joined the faculty of LIU Brooklyn in September 2011.

Posted 08/24/2012

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