Friday, 12 April 2013

One of the other dishes...

Just near the EISCAT building at the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory is the 32m parabolic antenna.

The Sodankylä 32m dish. One of four! (Photo: D. McKay-Bukowski)


It is one of two remote dishes that are used for the EISCAT system. We've featured it on numerous web log posts in the past. But today, we'll finish the week with a bizarre story I have about these dishes that actually goes back quite some time.

In 1998, I used to work for the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe. This was a Dutch organisation which operated VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) experiments in Europe. It made use of existing radio astronomy observatories, of which there are many dotted amongst the various European countries. Once a year, the support scientists from the various institutes would meet face-to-face to discuss technical issues, operations and other such matters. And, each year, these meetings would be held in a different location.

In 1998, the meeting was held at the Noto Observatory which is in Sicily, Italy. That observatory has a 32m dish. At the time, when we were shown around the telescope, the local scientists explained to us that this was one of several 32m dishes built to the same design and the same specification. There was a second one in Medicina, on the Italian mainland. And then, the guide explained in semi-hushed tones, there were two more 32m dishes built.... somewhere in the far north. Probably top secret? Possibly military? Interesting, but I quickly forgot about those mysterious other dishes and life moved on.

Fast forward to 2007.

I had since moved on to new places and new projects. During 2007, I worked at the Kiruna EISCAT station where there is alsoa 32m dish. We had been having some gearbox problems with it and I remember discussing the design and construction of the antenna with the engineers there. They explained that it was one of several 32m dishes built to the same design and the same specification. There was a second one at Sodankylä, in Finland. And then, it was explained in semi-hushed tones, there were two more 32m dishes built.... somewhere in the far south of Europe. Probably top secret? Possibly military?

Ding!

The penny dropped and I realised that the other two dishes must be the two Italian radio telescopes and their mysterious counterparts were, in fact, only the scientific radar receivers up here that we know and love. Nothing secret; nothing unusual.

Mystery solved.



Links to photographs of the four 32m dishes:

Medicina, Italy
Noto, Italy
Kiruna, Sweden
Sodankylä, Finland

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