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Computer to Pinpoint Distant Galaxies

European radio astronomers have switched on a new supercomputer that will provide some of the sharpest views of the universe ever obtained. Today, researchers at the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, dedicated the $10 million European VLBI Network Data Processor, which will knit together data from 16 telescopes across Europe. Together, the telescopes create a virtual dish 9000 kilometers wide that can detect the faintest radio emissions from distant galaxies.

"It's a fantastic system they've built," says Jonathan Romney of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs a similar but less powerful "correlator" in Socorro, New Mexico. Still, it will take the new machine, which makes 16 trillion calculations per second, days or weeks to construct an image from a single observing session. The first images are expected later this year.