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Radio astronomers listen to a swan song from the Moon

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DWINGELOO, The Netherlands (31 August 2006) -- Early morning on Sunday, 3 September 2006, the European spacecraft SMART-1 will complete its three year mission with a controlled impact to the surface of the Moon.

European radio astronomers led by a team from the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE, Dwingeloo, The Netherlands) will monitor radio transmissions from SMART-1 using a network of radio telescopes located in South America and Australia. These telescopes, TIGO (Transportable Integrated Geodetic Observatory, Concepcion, Chile), ROEN (Northeastern Space Radio Observatory, Fortaleza, Brazil), Mt. Pleasant Observatory (Hobart, Australia) and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (Narrabri, NSW, Australia), will operate in Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) mode. The observation will allow radio astronomers to pinpoint the exact time and location of the impact and investigate radio- physical effects of wave propagation in close vicinity to the Lunar surface.

TIGO, one of the participating telescopes, will send data to the Data Processing Centre at JIVE for immediate evaluation as part of the Express Production Real-time e-VLBI Service (EXPReS) project coordinated by JIVE and funded by the European Commission (DG-INFSO). The data transfer will be made possible by a close collaboration between several national and international networks: REUNA (Chile), RedCLARA (South America), GÉANT2 (Europe) and SURFnet (Netherlands).

The data from all four radio telescopes will be processed at JIVE using software first developed and used for successful tracking of the European Space Agency’s Huygens Probe during its descent through Titan's atmosphere in January 2005.

In May 2006, the Medicina radio telescope in Italy and Metsähovi radio telescope in Finland observed SMART-1 to test the feasibility of the VLBI setup. JIVE also successfully coordinated an observing test with TIGO and Fortaleza in June, the first ever spacecraft tracking conducted at these two telescopes. These were further verified by a July 2006 test using the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) in the Netherlands.

Successful tracking of the SMART-1 spacecraft before and during impact will validate observation from ground stations for future lunar and planetary missions, such as China’s Chang’e-1 lunar orbiter due to launch in 2007.

Leonid Gurvits from JIVE leads the team of radio astronomers tracking SMART-1: "SMART-1 offers a unique opportunity to verify observing strategies developed by JIVE scientists for future VLBI tracking of interplanetary missions. In this sense, SMART-1 fulfils its destiny as a demonstrator of new space technologies and paves the way for exciting future endeavours in the Solar System."

About JIVE
The Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE, was established as a scientific foundation in December 1993. JIVE’s mandate is to support the operations of the European VLBI Network (EVN) in the widest sense. The major activity has been the development, construction and successful operation of the EVN Data Processor, a powerful supercomputer that combines the signals from radio telescopes located across the planet, creating one huge telescope of inter- continental dimensions. Using this technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), astronomers can make detailed images of cosmic radio sources, providing astronomers with the clearest, highest resolution view of some of the most distant and energetic objects in the Universe.

About EXPReS
Express Production Real-time e-VLBI Service (EXPReS,, is a three-year project funded by the European Commission with the objective of creating a distributed, large-scale astronomical instrument of continental and intercontinental dimensions. This electronic Very Long Baseline Interferometer (e-VLBI) is achieved using high-speed communication networks operating in real-time and connecting together some of the largest and most sensitive radio telescopes on the planet. EXPReS is coordinated by JIVE, the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (, which is hosted by ASTRON, the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (, in Dwingeloo.

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Dr Leonid Gurvits
Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE)
+31 521-586514 (office)
+31 529-015149 (mobile)

Kristine Yun, Public Outreach Officer
Express Production Real-time e-VLBI Service (EXPReS)
Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe
+31 521-596500

Notes to editors:

The Australia Telescope is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility managed by CSIRO, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.


Last modified: October 15, 2007