e-MERLIN Development 2018-2023

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

e-MERLIN is an existing interferometer array composed of 7 radio telescopes operating at cm-wavelengths. It is a major international facility that provides subarcsecond resolution images of the sky with microJy sensitivity. This resolution is very much a "sweet spot" for resolving structures on galactic and extra-galactic scales. The capabilities of the telescope address many of STFC's key science objectives, tackling a wide-range of different topics - from planet formation through to cosmology and even tests of fundamental physics. e-MERLIN is formally recognised as an SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Pathfinder, and is currently operated from Jodrell Bank Observatory (JBO) by the University of Manchester, under a contract with STFC.

This proposal aims to ensure that e-MERLIN will continue to be at the forefront of radio astronomy well into the next decade. In particular, we wish to:
(i) continue operations of the telescope as a UK national facility for at least the next 5 years (2018-2023), maintaining the current dynamic and vibrant science programme,
(ii) embark on an ambitious but modular and non-disruptive upgrade programme, greatly enhancing e-MERLIN's capabilities and ensuring that UK astronomers remain at the forefront of astrophysics well into the next decade.
We also propose to upgrade e-MERLIN by re-using key technologies and software tools developed as part of the UK's substantial investment in the SKA Design and Construction stage. This will not only transform the capabilities of the telescope itself but from a users perspective it will also give it the same "look and feel" as SKA1-mid. These improvements will provide UK astronomers with a significant competitive advantage as they prepare to fully exploit the SKA as it enters its operational phase sometime in the second half of the next decade. The strategic relevance of e-MERLIN was also recognised in the 2012-2013 AAP report, highlighting its importance in the UK's future exploitation of the SKA.

The enhanced e-MERLIN facility will visibly raise the profile of UK radio astronomy amongst the SKA partners, and alongside the new SKA global Headquarters (also located at JBO). The University of Manchester has a grand vision in which the Observatory, the SKA Organisation HQ and the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (JBDC) - three highly complementary world-leading institutions - reinforce the effectiveness and prestige of the other. With the proposed addition of an industrial/business presence on this radio astronomy campus, the UK can fully capitalise on its substantial SKA investment.

This proposal is very much community led and science driven - it has been developed in direct consultation and engagement with the e-MERLIN user community itself. The proposed upgrade path will provide near continuous frequency coverage from 1-25 GHz. At the lower part of the band it will increase the e-MERLIN array's field of view by almost an order of magnitude. By broad banding the receivers/data links and introducing new telescopes such as the Goonhilly telescope in Cornwall, we will double the resolution of the array and greatly improve the sensitivity and aperture coverage at frequencies beyond 4 GHz. The seamless incorporation of the iconic 76-metre Lovell Telescope into e-MERLIN with a phased array feed (PAF) will also permit the development of a non-imaging mode that would beam-form the full array into a highly sensitive pulsar/transient instrument. And last but not least, the introduction of SKA1-mid user interfaces, software pipelines and state-of-the-art processing algorithms will perfectly prepare the next generation of astronomers for the future scientific exploitation of the SKA. By extending e-MERLIN operations well into the next decade, and committing to an upgrade programme that builds on current investments, this proposal aims to keep the UK at the forefront of astrophysics research for decades to come.

Planned Impact

This proposal expects to deliver a significant and very positive impact for a wide range of individual scientists, engineers, research organisations, businesses and the wider general public.

The scientific data produced by the upgraded e-MERLIN telescope will benefit astronomers and the wider scientific community working at universities and research laboratories in the UK and around the world. e-MERLIN will permit the astronomical community to study distant cosmic objects and related phenomena including proto-planetary disks, starforming regions in the Milky Way and in distant galaxies, pulsars and other transient phenomena, compact objects such as black holes, neutron stars and x-ray binary systems, and active galaxies energised by supermassive black holes. These data will be complementarity to other observations made by telescopes operating in other parts of the spectrum. The unique capabilities of e-MERLIN will place UK astronomers at the forefront of modern astrophysics.

Postgraduate and post-doctoral students will make particular use of the e-MERLIN telescope - the data will form an integral part of many PhD and Masters theses - in this respect e-MERLIN will continue to be an outstanding training ground for many "early-stage" scientists. Senior astronomers will use the data in their own peer-reviewed publications, enhancing their own careers and positioning themselves to compete for future funding e.g. research studentships, compute hardware etc.

Engineers working on e-MERLIN and the associated upgrade programme will have the opportunity to work on a challenging and innovative project, enhancing their skills and boosting the UK's expertise in areas where there is already a growing demand e.g. digital electronics, broadband data transfer and communications systems, highly sensitive RF detection technologies, and advanced software development, to name just a few. The valorization of the technical research associated with the e-MERLIN upgrade will have untold benefits to wider society. Industrial companies and business concerns will also benefit from the contracts that are placed for the hardware and software elements required to realise the new e-MERLIN sub-systems. They too will benefit from being associated with such a prestigious project and the technology by-products that may have application in other unrelated market places.

Wider society will also benefit, apart from possible technology spin-offs, e-MERLIN discoveries will improve our understanding of the Universe that we live in. Astronomical research holds a fascination for the general public, and they want to know answers to the big questions - understanding our place in the cosmos, our own origins, and whether we are alone in the universe. Fortunately, e-MERLIN research outcomes are very relevant to these fundamental questions, and engaging with the general public is something we give great priority. Our sister organisation, the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (JBDC) is one of the premier science outreach centres in the country - e-MERLIN research and the wider benefits of the project will be well represented in this collaboration. Our social media

The University of Manchester has a grand vision for the Jodrell Bank site in which JBO, JBDC and SKAO - three highly complementary world-leading institutions - reinforce the effectiveness and prestige of the other. With the possible addition of an industrial/business presence on this radio astronomy campus (currently known as Jodsat), the UK is well positioned to fully capitalise on its substantial investment in both e-MERLIN and the SKA. An upgraded e-MERLIN will therefore benefit the north-west of England in particular, and the nation as a whole.

Publications

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Title CASA based e-MERLIN reduction pipeline 
Description (Ainsworth) The creation of a CASA based eMERLIN reduction pipeline based on current best practice (from Javier Moldon) containerised in a Singularity environment suitable for deployment on Wilkes (when available) and DIRAC, as well as generic Cloud and Grid resources. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The pipeline is editable by the user in a Jupyter Notebook format, but executable in a non-interactive environment (e.g. DIRAC, Grid). This pipeline is also being tested on the IRIS OpenStack Cloud service at RAL. These containers are openly available on github (https://github.com/rainsworth/eMERLIN-IRIS) and can also be used for training purposes. As well as general usage, this pipeline will be used to compare imaging results to the SDP pipeline for quality assurance and benchmarking purposes, and to identify elements that are missing from the SDP workflow as part of WP2.2. A second pipeline using facetted imaging is in development. 
URL https://github.com/rainsworth/eMERLIN-IRIS
 
Title eMERLIN IRIS CASA Pipeline 
Description This software repository contains pipelines for radio data analysis for the eMERLIN telescope using CASA in a Jupyter Notebook locally via Singularity on a Mac or via Docker on a Mac. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This software made it possible to process eMERLIN data on the IRIS GRID infrastructure. 
URL https://github.com/rainsworth/eMERLIN-IRIS
 
Title eMERLIN RASCIL Pipeline 
Description This software provides an eMERLIN specific adaptation of the SKA SDP processing pipelines. RASCIL uses the Dask package (https://dask.org) for distributing the processing over many cores or nodes. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This pipeline enables the highly distributed processing of eMERLIN datasets and more efficient scientific output from the facility. 
URL https://timcornwell.gitlab.io/eMERLIN_RASCIL_pipeline/
 
Description IRIS Annual f2f Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The eMERLIN IRIS software was presented to the wider IRIS scientific computing community
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://indico.ph.qmul.ac.uk/indico/conferenceDisplay.py?confId=446