Very Long Baseline Interferometry

Artwork of the earth showing two radio telescopes on two different continents receiving signal from a distant quasar, indicating the difference in time that each telescope receives the same signal from the quasar. The image shows that each telescope records the time with a hydrogen maser clock with an accuracy of 1 sec in 1 million years, and uses a mark three receiver. This information is stored on a magnetic tape at each telescope which is then sent to the correlating centre to correlate the data.

VLBI Reproduced with permission
from GSFC VLBI group

Geodetic Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations provided the first direct confirmation of tectonic plate motion at the end of the 1980s. Now VLBI observations measure the motions of stations with accuracy better than 1mm/year together with other space geodetic techniques such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) analysis.

VLBI observations to stable distant quasars are an important component for the establishment of a reference system of coordinates in the sky - defining the Celestial Reference Frame External site link.

The radio system (positions derived from radio observations to quasars) has replaced the traditional optical reference system based on star positions. The optical system which was used for the past 200 years had an average accuracy (of star positions) to about 10 milliarcseconds (equivalent to 0".01).

The current average accuracy of quasar positions observed by radiosystems is about 0.1-0.2 milliarcseconds (50-100 times better); therefore the International Astronomical Union has recommended using radiosystems for the definition of The International Celestial Reference Frame.

Topic contact: geodesy@ga.gov.au Last updated: April 14, 2014