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Working nights and weekends in an unheated garage,

tying together a few thousand dollars worth of electrical


equipment (some of it woefully out of date). Can this be the
means by which two tinkerers save the embattled field of
radio astronomy? Only time will tell if astronomer Cecilia
Barnbaum (Space Telescope Science Institute) and research
engineer Richard F. Bradley (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) have paved the way for scientists worldwide to
come to grips with the ever-increasing threat of radio-frequency interference. This thing was put together with spit
and string, says Barnbaum of the partners real-time adaptive
filter. Yet with it they have taken a practical first step toward
subtracting unwanted signals from astronomical measurements of cosmic radio waves.
Adaptive filters work as follows. A signal of interest is measured, along with unwanted interference, by one detector; a second reference detector measures interference alone. Inevitably there are slight but ever-changing differences between the
interference signals measured by the two detectors. Consequently, some mathematical fine-tuning is required before the interference can be subtracted successfully from the desired data.
The adaptive filters job is to continuously adjust the mathematical coefficients that fine-tune the subtraction.
Similar techniques have been exploited at audio frequencies
(hundreds or thousands of cycles per second) to monitor fetal
heartbeats and to remove engine noise from the passenger compartments of automobiles. But, says Bradley, in order to meaningfully contribute to radio astronomy, adaptive filters have to
incorporate modern digital technology and to operate at frequencies of one megahertz (one million cycles per second) or
more. Barnbaum and Bradleys device, which boasts these advances, was first tested against simulated interference last year.
More recently, the inventors found that they could reduce
the strength of an unwanted signal by a factor of 72 decibels
(dB) a 16-millionfold drop in controlled laboratory conditions. Last year, Barnbaum and Bradley also had a chance to
test their adaptive filter on the National Radio Astronomy Observatorys 140-foot (42-meter) radio telescope at Green Bank,

CECILIA BARNBAUM

NEWSNOTES

A New Weapon in the War


Against Radio Interference

West Virginia. Using a TV-type antenna in piggyback mode


atop the telescope (see the top of the photograph above),
Barnbaum and Bradley managed to diminish interference
from a local FM radio station, albeit by only a modest 25-dB
(320-fold) factor. I think we can do much better than that,
says Bradley, in part by measuring and compensating for the
polarization of interference signals, and in part by increasing
the number of reference channels to handle multiple sources
of interference.
For her part, Barnbaum hopes that more resources can be
devoted to refining the technique. Interference is certainly
going to be a problem for the Green Bank Telescope, she says
(see page 26), and astronomers at other facilities are beginning
to express interest in the duos still-unpublished findings.

A Crater Chain Close Up


On July 15th the Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a bevy of new
images of Jupiters largest moon, Ganymede, taken by the Galileo
spacecraft. The pictures show fine details on the icy world, including
fresh impact scars and terrain of varying brightness and texture.
Among the more intriguing views was this image of Enki Catena, a
150-kilometer-long (90-mile-long) chain of craters. Three such features are known to exist on Ganymede, and more than a dozen can
be found on the surface of Callisto (S&T: January 1994, page 41).
Crater chains are believed to arise when a comet or asteroid comes
too close to Jupiter and is disrupted by tidal forces produced by the
giant planets tremendous gravity.The resulting pieces travel closely
together and sometimes wind up hitting something larger in this
instance, Ganymede, or as in the case of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
in July 1994, Jupiter itself. Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech.
18

October 1998 Sky & Telescope

1998 Sky Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.