Thursday, 31 May 2012

Parhelion over Pikku Malla

During the site inspection work, the weather was constantly shifting, with bands of cloud rolling across the skies. At one stage were were treated to some spectacular parhelia which pulsed and shimmered as the clouds and ice masked or enhanced the reflections. We took a lot of photographs, but none of them do justice to the scene... you simply cannot beat seeing it with your own eyes.

A parhelion and the sun over Pikku Malla.
Click on the "parhelion" label for this post to find others, along with an explanation of the parhelion effect.

KKRRiT 2012 in Gdansk

Earlier this month, I attended the KKRRiT 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. This was to give presentations on LOFAR and KAIRA to the Polish community and to continue discussions with the POLFAR community on future possible collaborations. It was a great conference and there were a lot of very interesting results shown and productive discussions afterwards. The conference was followed by a trip to Warsaw to meet with some of the POLFAR team there. As we have reported before, there are plans in Poland to build three LOFAR stations in future, so there should be lots of interesting news coming from our colleagues down south soon!

KKRRiT 2012 conference photograph.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Site arrivals

Following on from the previous post, here are a couple of photographs of the site as seen on arrival. The gentle slope from the main road leads down to the area where the so-called "carpark" is. This is actually the area that is being proposed for a compact low-band array (LBA).

The driveway onto the site.

View of the HBA on arrival... breath-taking!

I know that the Irish are going to put up a stiff fight for the most picturesque LOFAR site, but nothing can beat the Arctic skys, snow-swept mountains and stunning illumination of the KAIRA station.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Sign convention

Standing on the main road at the entrance to the KAIRA site, there are two signs. Facing north, you can see the sign to our facility. If you then turn around, there is the sign welcoming you to Kilpisjärvi.

Turn left for KAIRA (or else you'll end up in Norway!)

If you look carefully at the above photograph, you should be able to see the HBA behind the trees.

The mud-bespattered sign marking Kilpisjärvi (in Finnish and Sami).
If you continue along this stretch of road you will cross the customs point. However, KAIRA itself is still most definitely in Finland!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Site storage

Site work continues, including inspections of the crates, containers and other facilities.

The two storage containers.

Stockpiles of supplies for the LBA installation, as well as some leftover boxes.

These two containers will be moved when building works start on the LBA array itself. The shipping contains were icy-cold, but still in good condition and the few supplies therein were okay.

Footprints in the snow

Another week has begun and we are continuing our series of photographs of preparations and inspections of the KAIRA site. We start with this poignant photograph of footprints in the snow.

He said he may be some time...

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Saana in May

Just to finish off the weekend, this is the view of Saana as seem from the top of the brown storage container at the southern end of the KAIRA site. As would be expected it is still snow bedecked.

The black on the right of the mountain is the sheer cliff-face on the lake-side. The rest of the peak remains completely covered. As might be expected, the mountains around KAIRA are always beautiful... especially at this time of year.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Masts and poles

Some more photographs from the post-winter site visit of some of the masts and pole that stick up around the KAIRA site.

Communications antenna on the RF-container.

A snow pole, nailed to the corner of an HBA tile.

Ensuring that masts and tiles retain sufficient clearance is actually important. For the tiles, it is easy for them to be buried in extremely heavy snow dumps... even though the tiles themselves stand 2 metres above the ground. Markers help ascertain the locations when viewed using the remote surveillance cameras.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Warming up the electronics

Another part of the post-winter checks was making sure all the electronics were okay and that the systems were operational. Because winter can get extremely cold (–40 degrees) it is actually necessary to provide heating to ensure that the systems do not ice over!

The RF-electronics in the container at KAIRA.

Seriously! Where else would you find radiators in an electronics cabinet!
Everything was in good condition and the container was at a good temperature. Excellent news and we proceeded to continue configuration and testing work.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Snow conditions

Arriving at the site, the first concern was what was the state of the HBA. Had it survived the winter? Was there much snow about? How deep was it and had it managed to get through the snow barriers to choke and lift any tiles? As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised at the condition of the site. Absolutely perfect! Our design had worked brilliantly.

Snow build-up under the array... minimal!

Conditions along the trailing edges... fine!

Snow build-up on the leading north-west edge... deep, but okay!
As it turned out, there was exactly what we had expected in terms of snow depth and density. There was considerable drift banks on the leading edge, but there was no shift in the array structure at all.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Arrival

In mid-May we ventured back to the KAIRA site for the first major visit since the winter began.

I'd forgotten how far it is from SGO to Kilpisjärvi. The plan for this trip is to complete the first post-winter checks, clear the area where the LBA is likely to go and conduct the first ground survey. It is going to be an intense few days, and it will take a couple of weeks to report all the news on the web log!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It's in the post

Over the winter stores have been stock-piling at SGO headquarters near Sodankylä.

A stack of LBA posts. These will be for two 48-element LBA arrays.

Each post is approx. 1.8m long.

Monday, 21 May 2012


Summer is here (almost!). We have had our first positive temperatures and snow has stopped falling (apart from yesterday). Yes, it is time to return to the sunny north and get stuck into the build programme for this summer. As per last year, we have lots of things planned and intend to follow the action with at least one post every 24 hours until the sun next sets (which at these latitudes is in Autumn!)

The institute on a lovely spring afternoon.


Loads more to follow!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Proposed site for the I-LOFAR station

Here is one last photograph before we leave the Emerald Isle and return to the cooler climes of the Arctic north. The proposal is to the build the Irish LOFAR station in a field within the castle grounds. The following panorama shows the field and the surrounding landscape.

Site of the future I-LOFAR station, Birr, Co Offaly, Ireland.

For those who are worried about the trees, don't panic! We have checked and all of them fall below the elevation clearances required by the ASTRON station requirements.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Leviathan Telescope

Some more images from the I-LOFAR visit. As we have mentioned, Castle Birr has a fantastic astronomical history. The Leviathan Telescope (the largest in the world from 1845 until 1917) was responsible for some great discoveries. Several well-known celestial objects were named at the eyepiece of this magnificent instrument. Examples include the Whirlpool Galaxy and the Crab Nebula. But, for today, let's just admire the old fashioned architecture of this wonderful scientific instrument.

The elevation winch and service railway at the back of the telescope.

Note the old-fashioned timber gantries.

A side view showing off the crenellations. The winch in the foreground allows the telescope to slew in azimuth (although only over a limited range).

Another view. Note the castle itself in the background.

Another close-up of the 6-foot aperture.
Don't forget to click on the images to see enlargements. Enjoy! (And have a nice weekend!)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

I-LOFAR castle reception

Here is some more news from the recent I-LOFAR meeting. On the first day there, there was a reception in the Castle. The 7th Earl of Rosse, and current occupant of the castle, delighted delegates with a lovely reception including a very brief introduction to the history of the castle, the Earls of Rosse and the area itself. The Earl was enthusiastic about the I-LOFAR project, and our Irish colleagues must be thrilled to have such fantastic support.

Arriving at the Castle. (Try to find another LOFAR station with such style!)

As this was the inauguration of the project at Birr Castle, the Earl thought it appropriate that his guests would sign the castle's visitor book.

Signing the visitors' book.

Yes, this is the original visitors' book. With cloth gloves for handling it, this volume was every bit as awe inspiring as it might sound.

The first entries

Among the entries are some very esteemed names. George Airy, William Herschel and, on the very first page, Charles Babbage. It is a strange twist of fate that brings together such great names, given that the LOFAR system, indeed, combines aperture physics, astronomical discovery and the power of computing to realise its potential.

Just another visitor?

And yes, much honoured and humbled, I was invited to sign the magnificent book as well. Let's hope that this inspiration will drive us (I-LOFAR and the LOFAR community in general) to accomplish this ambitious project and make future generations look upon those pages with even a tiny fraction of that which we have for our scientific predecessors.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Desmond to invest in radio telescope for Birr

Good news for the I-LOFAR proposal. Visionary Dermot Desmond will be contributing private investment, which will help kick-start the Irish LOFAR project.

This is extremely welcome news and gives a valuable boost to this critical scientific project. Of course, we at KAIRA wish the Irish team every success and look forward to working with them in this exciting era of radio science.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

ILTO-2012 meeting

Last month, there was an International LOFAR Telescope Operations (ILTO) meeting in Onsala, Sweden. It was held on 17/18 April 2012. This was a good opportunity to present the progress made so far with the KAIRA system to the rest of the LOFAR technical community. The meeting itself was held at the Onsala observatory, which is on the coast, just south of Gothenburg. Here are a few photographs from the visit.

In the distance is the 26m dish, which is used for VLBI, etc.

The radome with the other VLBI dish.

The LOFAR field (SE607)