Demonstrating the Principles of Aperture Synthesis with Table-Top Laboratory Exercises
Many undergraduate radio astronomy courses are unable to give a detailed treatment of aperture synthesis due to time constraints and limited math backgrounds of students. We have taken a laboratory-based approach to teaching radio interferometry using a set of college-level, table-top exercises. These are performed with the Very Small Radio Telescope (VSRT), an interferometer developed at the Haystack Observatory using satellite TV electronics as detectors and compact fluorescent light bulbs as microwave
signal sources. The hands-on experience provided by the VSRT in these labs allows students to gain a conceptual understanding of radio interferometry and aperture synthesis without the rigorous mathematical background traditionally required.
The data are quickly and easily processed using a user-friendly data analysis Java package, VSRTI_Plotter.jar. This software can also be used in the absence of the equipment as an interactive computer activity to demonstrate an interferometer’s responses to assorted surface brightness distributions. The students also gain some familiarity with Fourier transforms and an appreciation for the Fourier relations in interferometry using another Java package, the Tool for Interactive Fourier Transforms (TIFT). We have successfully used these tools in multiple offerings of our radio astronomy course at Union College