Researcher appointed to global network

02 Jul, 2020
Researcher appointed to global network
Photo credit: REANNZ

Dr Stuart Weston has been appointed as Network Coordinator of the International VLBI (Very-Long-Baseline-Interferometry) Service (IVS), a global network of radio telescopes which provide essential information about Earth rotation, tectonic plate motion, universal time, and supports the Global Positioning and Satellite Navigation Systems, including GPS.

Dr Weston is a software engineer focused on big data processing of astronomical surveys. These have moved from the realm of hundreds or thousands of objects to millions requiring very different methods of analysis and statistics. He says the appointment is a real honour and he’s looking forward to continuing to work and cooperate with his radio astronomy colleagues around the world. “We’ve been holding virtual board meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions, but I’m looking forward to eventually being able to travel to other network stations.”

The monitoring done by the IVS is crucial not only for all manner of space research, but for several terrestrial applications as well, including providing accurate mapping. All satellites rely on the IVS. The International Celestial Reference Frame uses quasars – the most remote objects in the universe, which are so far away any motion is negligible – to determine what is happening here on earth, with an accuracy of a few millimetres.

That accuracy allows for future applications like driverless vehicles, and allowing them to drive on a road, and not be routed to a stream or field due to changes in the earth’s rotation.

AUT’s Warkworth Radio Astronomical Observatory is part of the IVS network. The IVS1 network headquarters is at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, in Maryland, USA.

Professor Sergei Gulyaev says Dr Weston’s appointment is a high-level recognition of New Zealand’s Radio Astronomy. “Compared to other radio astronomical observatories around the world, New Zealand’s observatory and radio astronomy are relatively young. This is part of our fruitful collaboration with Spark. Our team at AUT has gone from zero to a network station, reviewing and examining each procedure and task along the way. We have knowledge and skills across a range of skills and interests, and Stuart’s appointment as Network Coordinator recognises that."