Coherence loss in phase-referenced VLBI observations*
Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany e-mail: email@example.com
2 Departament d'Astronomia i Astrofísica, Universitat de València, 46100 Burjassot, València, Spain
3 Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apdo. Correos 2004, 08071 Granada, Spain
Accepted: 8 March 2010
Context. Phase-referencing is a standard calibration technique in radio interferometry, particularly suited for the detection of weak sources close to the sensitivity limits of the interferometers. However, effects from a changing atmosphere and inaccuracies in the correlator model may affect the phase-referenced images, and lead to wrong estimates of source flux densities and positions. A systematic observational study of signal decoherence in phase-referencing and its effects in the image plane has not been performed yet.
Aims. We systematically studied how the signal coherence in Very-Long-Baseline-Interferometry (VLBI) observations is affected by a phase-reference calibration at different frequencies and for different calibrator-to-target separations. The results obtained should be of interest for a correct interpretation of many phase-referenced observations with VLBI.
Methods. We observed a set of 13 strong sources (the S5 polar cap sample) at 8.4 and 15 GHz in phase-reference mode with 32 different calibrator/target combinations spanning angular separations between 1.5 and 20.5 degrees. We obtained phase-referenced images and studied how the dynamic range and peak flux-density depend on observing frequency and source separation.
Results. We obtained dynamic ranges and peak flux densities of the phase-referenced images as a function of frequency and separation from the calibrator. We compared our results with models and phenomenological equations previously reported.
Conclusions. The dynamic range of the phase-referenced images is strongly limited by the atmosphere at all frequencies and for all source separations. The limiting dynamic range is inversely proportional to the sine of the calibrator-to-target separation. Not surpriseingly, we also find that the peak flux densities decrease with source separation, relative to those obtained from the self-calibrated images.
Key words: techniques: interferometric / atmospheric effects / instrumentation: interferometers
© ESO, 2010