Top German and US astronomical institutions to boost cooperation

German-American collaboration in the field of radio astronomy is set to get a boost thanks to a new agreement between Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) and the US’
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

Under the new Memorandum of Understanding, the two institutions will continue their existing observational collaborations and share resources to improve the technical capabilities of each
other’s telescopes. They will also work together in the peer-reviewed allocation of observing time and maintain an ‘open skies’ policy to allow open access to each other’s telescopes on a
peer-reviewed basis.

‘Our two institutions have many common research goals, and joining forces to keep all our telescopes at the forefront of technology will be highly beneficial for the science,’ said MPIfR
Director, Anton Zensus.

‘This agreement follows many years of cooperation between our institutions and recognises the importance of international collaboration for the future of astronomical research,’ added Fred Lo,
Director of the NRAO, a facility of the US’ National Science Foundation.

The first project under the new agreement will see the MPIfR contribute USD 299,000 (just over ?203,000) to an upgrade of the NRAO’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The VLBA is a network of 10
antennas distributed across the US, from Hawaii to the US Virgin Islands.

The upgrade will make the VLBA’s receiving system 30% more sensitive to radio emissions with a frequency of 22GHz. This enhanced sensitivity will enable astronomers to address fundamental
questions in astronomy, such as the nature of ‘dark energy’, which appears to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Scientists will also be able to make more precise measurements of
the distances to distant galaxies.

‘The VLBA provides the greatest resolving power of any instrument in astronomy, and the MPIfR’s contribution to enhancing its capabilities is an important validation of the VLBA’s importance to
frontier astrophysics,’ commented Professor Lo.

The two institutions already work closely together in a number of international projects. These include the Global VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) Network, as well as the international
initiatives working on the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be built in either South Africa or Australia.

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