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A daily view of all the goings-on at ASTRON and JIVE.

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  • 03/13/18--17:00: EDU robotics
  • © ASTRON R&D

    'De Harmonie' in Leeuwarden was the place to be on Wednesday, February 21st, if you were a 10-11 year old boy or girl and interested in robotics and technology...

    Around 500 pupils of primary schools in the province of Friesland attended EDU Robotics, well organized by Innovation Cluster Drachten (ICD). Besides doing a dance together with over 100 robots built by themselves, they could listen to astronaut André Kuipers. Illustrated with beautiful pictures and movies, special guest André Kuipers explained to the children his fascination for technology, astronomy and the universe and his drive for becoming an astronaut.

    Parallel to the program at a kind of market place at which the ICD partners were represented, the children could experience science and technology in a practical way. At the ASTRON booth children could weigh themselves and add this information on the laptop to see how much their current weight on earth should be if they would be at e.g. the moon, Mars or Mercurius.

    For me, it was a pleasure to represent ASTRON there, to see the enthusiasm and curiosity of so many children and to learn from André Kuipers' experiences in the International Space Station during his stay of 190 days over there.

    Roy and Iris, thank you for your assistance prior to this event.

    Bas, thanks for your help at the event itself.


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    © Gary Larson (The Far Side)

    The radio astronomy community has developed some very impressive data reduction software over the years. The achieved dynamic range has increased by 4 orders of magnitude, keeping pace with the increasing sensitivity of the telescopes. Unfortunately, the best results are only available to users with special skills or connections. We have signally failed(*) to offer the same quality to the average user.

    We will discuss ways to redress this intolerable inequality. But first we have to ask ourselves why we should want to do this.

    (*) The author will only mention blunders and failures that he himself has been involved in.


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  • 03/15/18--17:00: The LAB
  • © JvL

    Last year, the team from Universiteit van Nederland and I worked out a new idea for short, few-minute segments, in which researchers attempt to explain the essence of certain science concepts in such a way "that you can explain it to your friends over dinner or coffee". We were aiming for National Geographic channel, and to convince that TV network we shot a low-budget pilot. Just the editor, cameraperson, presenter and I. It never aired but if you're interested you can see it here.

    That worked. National Geographic commissioned two dozen episodes for their web channel. In Dutch, these discuss brains, robots, rain, dna, fears, fire, and more. Three episodes cover astronomy and space. After a few weeks of writing the scripts with the editors, we finalized on these 5-minute segments that use props and effects.

    The three astronomy episodes were recorded on Nov 9, 2017, during one 12-hr long and very cold day in an unheated old army munitions depot in Zaandam. The pilot cameraperson was promoted to director, who now oversaw a crew of about 12 (sound, light, camera, editors, segway handlers and presenters). .

    The episode on Time Travel

    has just been made public (and was also featured in Algemeen Dagblad) the other two episodes (one on Space Travel, one about the Expanding Universe) will follow in March. In between takes we shot a pilot in Flemish for Belgian TV, so this may become an international franchise :).


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    © Ue-Li Pen

    NB: This is a special colloquium (by a very special guest), on an unusual day!

    Natural radio plasma lenses provide a new tool set for direct measurement of small scale structure of pulsar and FRB emission. VLBI allows a direct map of the lens geometry and properties. I present recent results on the crab pulsar, PSR B0834+06, black widow PSR B1957+20 and FRB110523, and new proposals for the nature of the enigmatic plasma lenses which are likely related to extreme scattering events.

    About the image: Algonquin Radio Observatory (Canada)


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    © JvL

    Recently the PALFA team, which includes ASTRON scientists Jason Hessels and Joeri van Leeuwen, discovered a new double neutron star (DNS) system, PSR J1946+2052, using Arecibo. As described in the paper led by Kevin Stovall (2018, ApJ 854, 225), The pulsar spins every 17 ms, and is in a 1.88 hr orbit around another neutron star. Because we used a new phase binning mode on the JVLA to localize the pulsar to a precision of 0."09, pulsar timing could quickly determine its magnetic field strength at the surface is low. Indeed, this pulsar is the recycled (not the young) pulsar in the DNS.

    Among all known radio pulsars in DNS systems, PSR J1946+2052 has the shortest orbital period. Because of this close orbit, the system emits a lot of gravitational waves. Its current mean GW luminosity is the largest of any known DNS: ~13% of the overall electromagnetic output of the Sun! This DNS has the shortest known estimated merger timescale, of only 46 Myr.


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  • 03/20/18--17:00: Strong Gravitational Lensing
  • © astropix.nl

    One of the things I always wanted to try is imaging a real gravitational lens with my small optical telescope. Not the ones like the Double Quasar, that was quite easy and I did that some years ago. No, my goal was to image distorted images (socalled Einstein rings) of distant galaxies, like the Hubble Space Telescope did: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1506a/

    So I put the coordinates of this object into my database with photographical targets for my remote observatory in rural Germany. And during a clear and cold night, my automatic scheduler decided it was time to try, and the telescope was pointed towards the SDSSCGB 8842.3 and SDSSCGB 8842.4 galaxy pair in the constellation of Ursa Major. After only 6.5 hours of integration time, the arcs were faintly visible (with some image processing), much sooner than I expected.

    The image above (on the left) is the result of a stack of 25, 600s integrations with a clear filter, and 3 integrations each for red, green and blue with a 400mm telescope. On the right the HST image at the same scale.

    My full image can be found here: https://www.astrobin.com/full/333141/0/ If you want to search for the smiley face, it is almost exactly in the middle, but you will have to look hard at the full resolution image (knob on the top right) since it is very small, and rotated 90 degrees w.r.t. to the two images shown above.


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  • 03/21/18--17:00: AstroFest 2018
  • © Gemma Janssen

    On Tuesday March 6, the AG, RO and JIVE astronomers got together for another episode of AstroFest.

    AstroFest is a day-long version of the regular Wednesday AstroLunches, where our ASTRON and JIVE astronomers present ongoing work to each other. Since there are more astronomers than talk slots, the selection of presenters at AstroFest is made through a random draw (lottery) procedure.

    This year AstroFest was hosted by Het Postkantoor in Hoogeveen. Since their meeting room is shared with Vue Cinemas, the lucky presenters found their images and work shown on a cinema-sized screen!

    We enjoyed 17 talks, on varying topics from Apertif to LOFAR, from FRBs to GRBs, from local space weather to interactions of galaxies.

    As AstroFest is also meant to get to know each other better, during the end-of-day borrel there was a quiz which had people debating the answers to questions like "Who lives furthest away from ASTRON/JIVE?", "Who speaks the most languages?" and finding out colleagues' hobbies and favourite foods. As shown in the pictures, the quiz was almost taken more seriously than presenting our daily work.

    One quiz-question was most important: "Who gave the best talk and why?". Unanimously, Richard Fallows was chosen for his "Entertaining, Informative, Charismatic CME dance" presentation. Congratulations!


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    © R. Vermeulen, N. Ebbendorf, C. Baldovin

    On February 27th, Rene Vermeulen, Nico Ebbendorf, and Carla Baldovin visited Yebes Observatory (1000m above sea level in Guadalajara, near Madrid, Spain). At the invitation of Pablo de Vicente (Director of Yebes), we discussed the prospects for constructing and operating a LOFAR station at Yebes, and becoming a member of the International LOFAR Telescope.

    We gave presentations about LOFAR, its science capabilities, organisation, operations, and the overall process to install a station. With Pablo de Vicente and key members of his staff, Rafael Bachiller (Director of the National Astronomical Observatory), and Jose Antonio Lopez-Fernandez (Deputy Director General for Astronomy, Geophysics, and Special Applications of the National Geographical Institute), we discussed their vision to include LOFAR in upcoming strategic plans and funding proposals for the Yebes facilities.

    We visited the potential site for a LOFAR station: Yebes has ample open space, a promising RFI situation based on first-look scans, and of course fiber bandwidth already in place. Then, with melting snow and rain beginning to fall, we were shown around the observing facilities and different laboratories where advanced receivers are developed. We ended up being much impressed!

    A few impressions of the day: (Top) panoramic view from the 40m dish (VLBI) with the RAEGE 13m radio telescope for VGOS observations at the left (the LOFAR station could be constructed behind it), the radome of the old radio telescope to the right, and the observatory main building. (Bottom left) Walking under the rain with the 40m dish in the mist, (right) on the potential site, studying the map.

    We look back on a productive and very enjoyable visit, and look forward to the future developments in Spain towards its incorporation into the ILT!


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  • 03/15/18--17:00: The LAB
  • © JvL

    Last year, the team from Universiteit van Nederland and I worked out a new idea for short, few-minute segments, in which researchers attempt to explain the essence of certain science concepts in such a way "that you can explain it to your friends over dinner or coffee". We were aiming for National Geographic channel, and to convince that TV network we shot a low-budget pilot. Just the editor, cameraperson, presenter and I. It never aired but if you're interested you can see it here.

    That worked. National Geographic commissioned two dozen episodes for their web channel. In Dutch, these discuss brains, robots, rain, dna, fears, fire, and more. Three episodes cover astronomy and space. After a few weeks of writing the scripts with the editors, we finalized on these 5-minute segments that use props and effects.

    The three astronomy episodes were recorded on Nov 9, 2017, during one 12-hr long and very cold day in an unheated old army munitions depot in Zaandam. The pilot cameraperson was promoted to director, who now oversaw a crew of about 12 (sound, light, camera, editors, segway handlers and presenters). .

    The episode on Time Travel

    has just been made public (and was also featured in Algemeen Dagblad) the other two episodes (one on Space Travel, one about the Expanding Universe) will follow in March. In between takes we shot a pilot in Flemish for Belgian TV, so this may become an international franchise :).


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  • 03/25/18--17:00: Life-cycle workshop 2018
  • © Astron

    From Monday 26 to Wednesday 28 March, ASTRON will host a workshop focussing on the life cycles and the energetics of radio sources. The main aims of the meeting are to discuss what we are learning from the data now coming from new radio and optical facilities, as well as the recent progress that has been made in numerical models of the evolution of radio sources.

    The topic of the life cycles of radio sources has regained a lot of interest recently in the astronomical community because radio galaxies and their radio jets can strongly affect the surrounding gaseous medium over very large scales, thus potentially playing a key role in the evolution of their host galaxy.

    There are about 50 participants and this should ensure that there is enough room in the programme for all attendants to present their results (with a talk or a poster), but also that there is ample time for discussion and for planning new projects and collaborations.

    As you can see in the picture, a nice collection of famous radio galaxies has been used for the badges: we hope all participants are happy with the galaxy they got!

    See more about the workshop and the programme on our website and please don't hesitate to join us if you are interested in some of the talks, or in the discussion sessions.


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    © R. Vermeulen, N. Ebbendorf, C. Baldovin

    On February 27th, Rene Vermeulen, Nico Ebbendorf, and Carla Baldovin visited Yebes Observatory (1000m above sea level in Guadalajara, near Madrid, Spain). At the invitation of Pablo de Vicente (Director of Yebes), we discussed the prospects for constructing and operating a LOFAR station at Yebes, and becoming a member of the International LOFAR Telescope.

    We gave presentations about LOFAR, its science capabilities, organisation, operations, and the overall process to install a station. With Pablo de Vicente and key members of his staff, Rafael Bachiller (Director of the National Astronomical Observatory), and Jose Antonio Lopez-Fernandez (Deputy Director General for Astronomy, Geophysics, and Special Applications of the National Geographical Institute), we discussed their vision to include LOFAR in upcoming strategic plans and funding proposals for the Yebes facilities.

    We visited the potential site for a LOFAR station: Yebes has ample open space, a promising RFI situation based on first-look scans, and of course fiber bandwidth already in place. Then, with melting snow and rain beginning to fall, we were shown around the observing facilities and different laboratories where advanced receivers are developed. We ended up being much impressed!

    A few impressions of the day: (Top) panoramic view from the 40m dish (VLBI) with the RAEGE 13m radio telescope for VGOS observations at the left (the LOFAR station could be constructed behind it), the radome of the old radio telescope to the right, and the observatory main building. (Bottom left) Walking under the rain with the 40m dish in the mist, (right) on the potential site, studying the map.

    We look back on a productive and very enjoyable visit, and look forward to the future developments in Spain towards its incorporation into the ILT!


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  • 03/27/18--17:00: "No exceptions"
  • © JvL

    For astronomers trying to convince their peers and the public of new results, reproducibility is very important. How can someone check your work if you do not describe how it is was derived? If we want the public to think critically for themselves, we should outline how we find our results, not only the final outcomes. This same public is funding much of our work, and there a different kind of accountability is equally important - the knowledge that tax euros were spent responsibly.

    One such euro-funded research project is ALERT, the search for FRBs and radio pulsars with Apertif. ALERT is currently at the 36-month mark, which meant a first independent audit of its finances was required. Remco Berg oversaw the preparation of this audit, with tasks ranging from the herding students and yours truly to fill out forms and declarations, but also - mandated by the ERC FP7 rule that VAT is not an allowed expense - going through every single receipt for a coffee here or a cable there and subtracting all the VAT (ugh).

    But it paid off. After their standard two-day investigation, the auditors came to the best possible conclusion. The key phrase being "We were able to complete the procedures specified, no exceptions were noted" (see image). Kudos to Remco and the Finance team.

    PS: No sweaters were charged against this grant.


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    © Colloquium

    Nuclear activity in radio galaxies (AGN) may be connected with the presence and kinematical properties of the surrounding interstellar medium. In this talk, I will present two projects that aim to link the properties of the neutral hydrogen (HI) and molecular gas in the centre of early-type galaxies to the triggering, fuelling and feedback effects of radio AGN.

    The first project investigates the presence of HI absorption in a sample of radio AGN to link the properties of the lines to the evolutionary stage of the AGN as well as to the properties of its host galaxy. I will present a comprehensive statistics of HI outflows, albeit derived from shallow observations. I will also consider the sources where HI absorption is not detected to perform stacking experiments that allow us to probe the general properties of HI in radio AGN.

    The second project is a multi-wavelength study of a young radio AGN (PKS B17181-649) to understand how cold gas may trigger the radio nuclear activity. We observed the HI, the molecular hydrogen and the carbon monoxide gas (CO). All these components indicate that cold gas is contributing to fuel the central nuclear activity. The kinematical properties of the CO detected in absorption strongly suggest that molecular clouds close to the AGN (r

    To conclude, I will discuss on the implications of the results of these projects on the upcoming neutral hydrogen surveys from the SKA pathfinders and precursors.


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    © astron

    Marisa Brienza, one of the three PhD students appointed thanks to the ERC RadioLife grant to study the effects of the gas in the life of radio galaxies, has successfully defended her thesis at the University of Groningen last Friday (23 March).

    The title of the thesis is "The duty cycle of radio galaxies as seen by LOFAR" and includes a new and more complete way to study the life and death of radio galaxies using the unique possibilities offered by LOFAR. Marisa was supervised by Raffaella Morganti and, for a period, by Leith Godfrey (PostDoc at ASTRON, also supported by Radiolife). The results obtained by Marisa have already been published in a number of papers and more are still to come: a great advertisement for the capabilities of LOFAR for the study of radio galaxies.

    The pdf of her thesis can be found


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    © astron

    Astron has been requested to do live tracking of the Tesla Roadster that was recently brought into space. Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster is an electric sports car and was the dummy payload for the Falcon Heavy test flight last February. Starman, a dummy dressed in a spacesuit, occupies the driver's seat. The 2008 Tesla Roadster car and Falcon Heavy rocket are products of Elon Musk's companies, Tesla and SpaceX. This electric car was previously used by Musk himself for commuting. It is the only consumer car ever sent into space.

    ASTRON has a contract with SpaceX to help develop tracking equipment for their In Space Monitoring Facility. Using the WSRT and dedicated hard- and software, the Space Monitoring Facility is able to qualify the signal performance of the Tesla Roadster in orbit. The measurements include battery power, signal power, tire pressure etc. in the analogue domain, and eye-diagrams, code tracking, chip rates etc. in the digital domain.

    The Tesla's signal power levels are extremely low, therefore large antennas are needed to perform the measurements with the necessary accuracy. So it is a perfect occasion to show the true power of Apertif in action and that it is uniquely equipped to perform this task.

    The image shows the schedule of the first live tracking in the early hours of today (4:30 UT - 8:30 UT) as it passes over Westerbork.


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    © astron

    Marisa Brienza, one of the three PhD students appointed thanks to the ERC RadioLife grant to study the effects of the gas in the life of radio galaxies, has successfully defended her thesis at the University of Groningen last Friday (23 March).

    The title of the thesis is "The duty cycle of radio galaxies as seen by LOFAR" and includes a new and more complete way to study the life and death of radio galaxies using the unique possibilities offered by LOFAR. Marisa was supervised by Raffaella Morganti and, for a period, by Leith Godfrey (PostDoc at ASTRON, also supported by Radiolife). The results obtained by Marisa have already been published in a number of papers and more are still to come: a great advertisement for the capabilities of LOFAR for the study of radio galaxies.

    The pdf of her thesis can be found


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  • 04/02/18--17:00: ARP286 (NGC 5566 & 5560)
  • © astropix.nl

    NGC 5566 is a big galaxy (diameter 150.000 ly) in the constellation of Virgo, at a distance of 90 Mly. It is gravitationally interacting with NGC 5560, the thin distorted galaxy to its right. This pair is entry number 286 in Halton Arp's "Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies" which was published back in 1966.

    The blue galaxy above NGC 5566 is NGC 5569, but it is probably at a very different distance. On the lower left, near the edge of the frame is galaxy PGC 51269.

    Due to the beautiful contrasting colours, this group is especially photogenic.

    This image consists of 48, 10 minute LRGB integrations with a cooled CCD camera mounted on a 40-cm telescope. The images were acquired autonomously by the ACP Scheduler software that controls a remote observatory in Burlage, Germany.

    For the full image please click here: https://www.astrobin.com/full/338025/0/


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    © astron

    BALTICS is an educational program funded by the European Union. It is meant to share our expertise with the staff of the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center (VIRAC) in Latvia, so that they will be able to carry out internationally competitive scientific research. ASTRON is one of the two partners involved in this challenging project, the other one being the University of Manchester (UMAN).

    The second part of the two-week course "Signal Processing - an intensive course" has been given from 27th February to the 2nd of March 2018 in Ventspils.

    This time, the course focused on topics like the Discrete Fourier Transform, the Fast Fourier Transform, Spatial Filtering and Multi-rate Signal Processing. It was given by Ronald de Wild to a small but dedicated group of VIRAC employees.


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  • 04/04/18--17:00: Mechanical Riddle
  • © P.Fusiara

    What does a blunt needle have in common with UV light, syringe, milk, food colorings, water, powder, high temperature, 2 engineers, a research instrument maker and an intern in a mechanical workshop?

    Find a correct answer of a line manager:

    A. Dunno, but such a combination sounds messy. Guys, have you cleaned afterwards?

    B. Some kind of scary & weird experiment for sure. Blunt needle??! Gosh, hope they have not injured our new intern; it would not be good for PR ...

    C. Whoever was in the workshop defo had fun ... wait a minute, they should be working!

    D. Cannot be! Paulaaaa!! were you baking space-cake again during working hours?! ... (But how can she bake without flour??)

    E. Well done, that is a very nice result, you have to publish it! IEEE, Nature, Journal of Heat Transfer Engineering, or maybe better Journal of Heat and Fluid Flow... Is your abstract already ready?

    Already curious? Watch this space, the riddle will be revealed soon :)


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  • 04/05/18--17:00: ASTERICS All-Hands meeting
  • © ASTERICS

    On 14 & 15 March 2018, the Astronomy ESFRI and Research Infrastructure Cluster, ASTERICS, organized an event for its developers and contributors to discuss their work.

    To stimulate collaborations, the meeting had an "All-Hands" structure to provide a place to share results, developments and issues with colleagues from different partner institutions who may work on similar issues.

    During the event, everyone actively interacted with several colleagues. Instead of long presentations, there was the chance for everyone to discuss their topic in small groups. In order to create multiple interest groups, each sessions started with short pitch talks of five minutes where one could promote what they wanted to discuss. The pitches were followed by active working sessions of one hour with the interested people. This gave everyone the opportunity to talk about different subjects in different settings, from code hacking to discussion of policies for facilitating multi-messenger astrophysics.

    At the end of an intense first day of productive work, everyone was able to cool down during an all-hands session of ice sculpting. The participants were divided in small groups and presented with blocks of ice to be transformed into pieces of art. The theme chosen for the sculptures was "Multi Messenger" and each group created a different story to present the topic: from traditional telescopes to more modern messengers such as gravitational waves and even alien spaceships.

    The project and the meeting enabled people with different backgrounds and environments to gather and learn while discussing. ASTERICS continues to show the success of multi-disciplinary interactions, with astronomers and developers from different fields finding common grounds and working together to achieve wonderful results.


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