Radio Science

Simultaneous radio interferometer and optical observations of ionospheric structure at the Very Large Array

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Abstract

[1] Radio astronomers are searching the cosmos for new scientific discoveries at increasingly lower radio frequencies and with larger antenna arrays, but their observations of the sky are blurred by the dynamic ionosphere. At the same time, ionospheric scientists are seeking to understand, at increasingly higher spatial and temporal resolutions, the dynamics that drive the ionosphere and its effects on technological systems. Advancements in radio astronomy at the Very Large Array (VLA) are leading to advancements in ionospheric physics and vice versa. We review some of the ionospheric observations made by the VLA at low frequency. Results from a 2003 summer campaign at the VLA are discussed, during which an all-sky optical camera was used to monitor ionospheric structure during VLA 74-MHz operations. The camera and additional off-site sensors, including ionosondes and incoherent scatter radar, were used to identify the dominant, summer nighttime ionospheric phenomena contributing to VLA signal distortion. Knowledge of the specific phenomena, including their spatial and temporal characteristics, can be used to improve low-frequency, astronomical imaging. Similarly, the VLA observations can be used to investigate ionospheric phenomena in great detail, leading to an improved understanding of ionospheric physics. Key to these findings is the identification of specific ionospheric phenomena using support sensors. Implications for the development of the Long Wavelength Array are discussed.

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