Sifting through Radio Signals from Space

Dec 5, 2011

Enhanced pulsar and single pulse detection via automated radio frequency interference detection in multipixel feeds

Jonathon Kocz*, Matthew Bailes, D. Barnes, S. Burke-Spolaor, L. Levin

Single pixel feeds on large aperture radio telescopes have the ability to detect weak (∼10 mJy) impulsive bursts of radio emission and sub-mJy radio pulsars. Unfortunately, in large-scale blind surveys, radio frequency interference (RFI) mimics both radio bursts and radio pulsars, greatly reducing the sensitivity to new discoveries as real signals of astronomical origin get lost among the millions of false candidates. In this paper a technique that takes advantage of multipixel feeds to use eigenvector decomposition of common signals is used to greatly facilitate radio burst and pulsar discovery. Since the majority of RFI occurs with zero dispersion, the method was tested on the total power present in the 13 beams of the Parkes multibeam receiver using data from archival intermediate-latitude surveys. The implementation of this method greatly reduced the number of false candidates and led to the discovery of one new rotating radio transient or RRAT, six new pulsars and five new pulses that shared the swept-frequency characteristics similar in nature to the `Lorimer burst’. These five new signals occurred within minutes of 11 previous detections of a similar type. When viewed together, they display temporal characteristics related to integer seconds, with non-random distributions and characteristic ‘gaps’ between them, suggesting they are not from a naturally occurring source. Despite the success in removing RFI, false candidates present in the data that are only visible after integrating in time or at non-zero dispersion remained. It is demonstrated that with some computational penalty, the method can be applied iteratively at all trial dispersions and time resolutions to remove the vast majority of spurious candidates.

*Correspondence: E-mail:

MNRAS website

J2048-1616, DM 11.456

The top panel in this figure shows single pulses for pulsar J2048-1616. There are also two single Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) spikes (indicated by arrows), and a short burst of several RFI pulses (indicated by the circle).

The bottom panel shows the same data after the new RFI detection method is applied. The RFI is removed, leaving only the pulsar signals behind.