The National Time and Frequency Network (NTFN) collaboration is researching methods for distributing highly accurate clock signals across fibre optic networks – with many potential scientific applications around the country. AARNet has been assisting this effort by proposing methods for distributing the signals across AARNet’s inter-capital and regional fibre footprint – so that the timing signals can share the same optic fibres as other AARNet services.
During March NTFN experiments moved from the Laboratory into the field – where accurate timing signals were successfully sent from CSIRO’s Narrabri Telescope to the MOPRA telescope location at Coonabarabran and back again (a distance of around 300km).
“It’s great to confirm that the timing signals can travel across the same fibre as our regular customer services and not impact them,” said Tim Rayner from AARNet’s operations team. Rayner travelled to Narrabri to assist the researchers by connecting fibres and optical Amplifiers between the sites, and to work with the research team to eliminate some potential sources of error in the system.
“This worked in the lab, but to see it work out at the telescopes, co-existing with real traffic flowing over the network is very rewarding, ” he said.
The success of this field experiment demonstrated that different telescopes can be synchronised to the same clock source over a long distance fibre network – without impacting other customer services using the same fibres. This has good potential to improve the speed and accuracy of some types of future astronomy observations. Further experiments are likely in future to demonstrate additional techniques to further improve the clock distribution accuracy.
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