Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- Alternate uses, see Merlin.
The Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) is an array of radio telescopes spread across Britain. The array is run from Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire by the University of Manchester on behalf of PPARC as a National Facility.
The array consists of up to seven radio telescopes and includes the Lovell Telescope, MkII, Cambridge, Defford, Knockin, Darnhall and Pickmere (previously known as Tabley). The longest baseline is therefore 217km and MERLIN can operate at frequencies between 151 MHz and 24 GHz. At a wavelength of 6 cm (5 GHz frequency), MERLIN has a resolution of 40 milliarcseconds which is comparable to that of the HST at optical wavelengths.
The telescope became operational in the early 1980s and has undergone several upgrades during its lifetime. The addition of the Cambridge antenna in 1991 increased both the sensitivity and angular resolution of the array. Since its early days the array has also had a new correlator and new receivers.
The e-MERLIN Upgrade
MERLIN currently uses microwave links to send astronomical data back from the remote stations. These links have a limited bandwidth so much of the data is thrown away. In order to increase the sensitivity of the telescope the current links are being replaced by optical fibre links which will carry a bandwidth of 4 GHz, compared to the current limit of 30 MHz, increasing the sensitivity of the array by a factor of around 30. This vast increase in data means that the old correlator will no longer be able to cope, so a new correlator is under construction which will be capable of processing over 200 Gb/s.
Another major development which is part of the upgrade is frequency flexibility - the ability to alter the observing band of the entire array in a matter of minutes using rotating carousels of receivers. Some telescopes in the array already have this capability, while the rest require the visit of an engineer to change the receiver. When e-MERLIN becomes operational the telescope will be able to switch rapidly between 1.4, 5, 6 and 22 GHz. This is required in order to take advantage of optimum conditions for high frequency observations where atmospheric conditions can severely affect results.
The following table lists information about each of the telescopes that make up the network.
|Lovell Telescope||76 m||+53:14:10.50||+02:18:25.74|
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