Open House at The Algonquin Radio Observatory

On July 19, 2008, we attended an open house at the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO) at Lake Travers (Lake Traverse) in Algonquin Park. The highlight was a tour of the 46 metre (150 foot) radio telescope. Some photographs of the Algonquin Radio Telescope and associated residence are presented here.

2008 July 19

About 25 years ago we went to an open house at the Algonquin Radio Telescope, but had not seen the main site since. (The gates on the access road are normally locked.) In late June of this year, we learned that there would be an open house on July 19. We were curious about the changes that had taken place since our last visit, and decided to take the opportunity for a return visit. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, and we enjoyed the drive to Lake Travers, arriving mid-morning. After a look around the Observatory House residence, we were taken on a tour of the 46 metre radio telescope. The tour lasted about an hour, after which we returned to the Observatory House for lunch and some exploration of the grounds and lake shore.

The 46 metre radio telescope at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

The 46 metre radio telescope at the Algonquin Radio Observatory. The dish can rotate through a full 360 degrees horizontally (azimuth) and 90 degrees vertically (zenith). The control room is in the building just visible at the right hand edge of the photo. The clean white area on the dish surface is a newly painted test area. Thoth Technology, the current operators of the site, are undertaking an extensive restoration project to bring the equipment back to pristine condition.

The control building at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

Entering the control building for the 46 metre radio telescope.

Algonquin Radio Observatory

View of the 46 metre radio telescope through the control room window.

Part of the control panel at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

Part of the control panel for the 46 metre antenna. This control panel dates from the 1990s. The original control panel, parts of which are still functional, is out of the field of view to the right of this photo.

The hydrogen maser (atomic clock) at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

The hydrogen maser (atomic clock). This is part of the observatory's role as a ground reference site of the Global Positioning System (GPS). The telescope is one of, if not the most, accurately and precisely determined locations in Canada.

A lab in the lower level of the control building at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

A lab in the lower level of the control building. The decor evokes a feeling of physics labs from the 1970s. (One could never have too many spare cables!)

The service tunnel at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

The service tunnel from control building to the 46 metre antenna. Lighting in the tunnel is provided by a string of one watt LED lamps (one of the recent upgrades). The telescope and residence are served by a 70+ kilometer private hydro line. There is a strong economic incentive to reduce electricity usage.

Gravity measurements at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

Location used by Natural Resources Canada for gravity measurements. The dead insects are Asian ladybugs, which have infested the radio telescope in recent years, causing some problems with the equipment. (See the Discovery Channel video clip referenced in the "Notes" below.)

Algonquin Radio Observatory

Inside the base building. The central support pillar for the antenna is on the left.

Part of the original control system at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

Part of the original control system for the radio telescope. In effect, an analog computer to determine azimuth and zenith angles (and to appropriately vary them as the earth rotates), so that a particular object or direction in space can be tracked. The modern approach would be to use a small digital computer.

Racks of vintage electronics at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

Racks of vintage electronics.

Algonquin Radio Observatory

Looking out a second floor window in the base of the 46 metre antenna. The item on the window sill is a circuit board soldering rack.

View from the observation platform at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

View from the observation platform, looking towards Lake Travers and the Observatory House, about 1.3 km distant. The Observatory's 11 metre antenna (currently out of service) is visible in the middle distance.

Algonquin Radio Observatory

Platform to access to the back of the dish. (Why you would need to access this particular spot on the back of the dish is not clear.)

Algonquin Radio Observatory

Looking up at the radio telescope from the ground.

The focus cabin on the 46 metre antenna at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

The focus cabin on the 46 metre antenna.

Algonquin Radio Telescope at Lake Travers in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2008-07-19) 

A side view of the dish.

A rear view of the dish at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

A rear view of the dish.

Algonquin Radio Observatory

Another rear view of dish with a closer look at the counterweight.

An old feed horn and an 11 metre antenna at the Algonquin Radio Observatory

An old feed horn and an 11 metre antenna, with a second control building in the background. Neither the feed horn or the dish is currently functional, but there are plans to restore both.

10c-7334 The front of the Observatory House.

The beach at the Algonquin Radio Observatory House, with a view down Lake Travers

The beach at the Observatory House, with a view down Lake Travers.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Observatory and were impressed by the hard work and effort that is currently underway to restore this site to once again be a world class facility. We hope that it will enjoy another 40 years of useful service.

notes

We were fortunate to arrive at the telescope at the quietest time of the Open House. Consequently the time was available to provide us with a very thorough and technical tour of the telescope. In fact, some of it was a little too technical and detailed for us to be confident in accurately recalling all of those details here. Rather than risk getting it wrong we have excluded most of the technical explanations from the above description. However, the links below can fill in much of that detail.

The Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO) is currently operated by Thoth Technology.

A video about the site can be seen on the Discovery Channel.

For more historical and technical background see:

Some of the equipment and buildings have been removed from the site. The solar interferometer array and the University of Toronto's 18 metre antenna are now at Area 31 near Shelburne, Ontario. (This link worked in 2008 July but is now giving a 403 (Forbidden) error.)

The following are International VLBI Service Annual Reports of activities at the ARO for the years 1999 to 2006. Aside from technical information, they also include some interesting photographs.

See also last page of the IVS Newsletter for December 2006. This IVS newsletter documents the 2006 shutdown of the 46 metre antenna.

Some photos of the site in 1982 can be seen here.