|Description:|| Every wednesday, at 11:00, those that are engaged or interested in the progress and frustrations of LOFAR commissioning, gather in Dwingeloo to review the weekly crop of stimulating issues. The proceedings are fed live to the internet (by the camera in the foreground), whence they are watched by a silent multitude of well-wishers. Among them may be the LOFAR Directors, smiling, frowning or scowling, in the way of the Olympians. Just to be on the safe side, a white bull is sacrificed to them from time to time, and the entrails of a student are read to glean their mood.|
The vital core of the proceedings is vigorous debate, by pundits of differing creeds, over the correct interpretation of the plots and images that are generated by LOFAR observations. The plot under discussion here shows the auto-correlation of the signal from HBA tile no 3 over 48 hours. The good news is that it repeats remarkably well every 24 hours (minus 4 min), testifying to the stability of the system. The puzzling bit is the unsmooth behaviour, which probably points to little bugs (or features) in the HBA tile beamformer.
Because real data are being discussed, this is not just another meeting. There often is real progress, technically, scientifically and emotionally. And the robust exchange of detailed information allows a much larger part of the variegated LOFAR community, inside and outside ASTRON, to participate actively in the process.
Even so, commissioning remains a hard slog, by patient and largely unsung heroes, through the viscous sludge of large and small problems that make up a new generation radio telescope. You can cheer them on every wednesday.