Haystack Observatory

Haystack Observatory
Organization Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Location Westford, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°37′24″N 71°29′18″W / 42.6233°N 71.4882°W / 42.6233; -71.4882Coordinates: 42°37′24″N 71°29′18″W / 42.6233°N 71.4882°W / 42.6233; -71.4882
Altitude 131 meters (430 ft)
Established 1960 (1960)
Website MIT Haystack Observatory
Haystack Radio Telescope 37 m dish antenna
Westford Radio Telescope 18.3 m dish antenna

Haystack Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is located in Westford, Massachusetts (USA), approximately 45 kilometers (28 mi) northwest of Boston. Haystack was initially built by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory for the United States Air Force and was known as Haystack Microwave Research Facility.[1] Construction began in 1960, and the antenna began operating in 1964. In 1970 the facility was transferred to MIT, which then formed the Northeast Radio Observatory Corporation (NEROC) with a number of other universities to operate the site as the Haystack Observatory. As of January 2012, a total of nine institutions participated in NEROC.[2]

The Haystack Observatory site is also the location of the Millstone Hill Observatory, an atmospheric sciences research center.[3] Lincoln Laboratory continues to use the site, which it calls the Lincoln Space Surveillance Complex (LSSC).[4] The George R. Wallace Astrophysical Observatory of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences is located south of the Haystack dome and east of the Westford dome.[5] The Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston has its clubhouse on the MIT property.[6]

Haystack Vallis on Mercury is named after this observatory.

Telescopes and Radars

Haystack Radio Telescope

Haystack radio telescope at the MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, MA
Westford Radio Telescope
Millstone Hill Radar

The 37 m (121 ft) Haystack Radio Telescope is a parabolic antenna protected by a 46 m (151 ft) metal-frame radome. It is known as the Haystack Long-Range Imaging Radar (LRIR) or Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar (HUSIR) when used for the LSSC.[4] It was constructed for use in space tracking and communication, but now is used primarily for astronomy. It was completed in 1964 and originally observed at 8 GHz on the radio spectrum.[7] Since then it has been upgraded to listen to other frequency bands, though not simultaneously. When used for radar it broadcasts and listens in bands at either 10 GHz or 95 GHz. The main dish was upgraded in 2006, which allowed operation at frequencies up to 150 GHz.[8] The secondary reflector of the Cassegrain design features an active surface.

Haystack Radar operations

The Long-Range Imaging Radar (LRIR) system was originally designed to function as an X-band long-range imaging radar. In wideband mode, LRIR runs at 10 GHz with a 1.024 GHz bandwidth. The system was capable of sensitivity of 25 cm resolution, allowing for tracking and imaging satellites out to geostationary orbit distances, as well as deep space objects out to 40,000 km (130,000,000 ft) range.[9] The radar was upgraded with a completely new antenna capable of dual-band operations, called Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar (HUSIR). The system is capable of simultaneously operations in X band and W-band, which allows it to better determine the size, shape, orientation, and motion of orbiting objects.[10] The HUSIR design allows for tracking object with 0.5 millidegree accuracy.[11] The W-band operates between 92 and 100 GHz, with a bandwidth of 8 GHz. The system contributes data to the United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN).[12]

Haystack Auxiliary Radar

The Haystack Auxiliary Radar (HAX) is Ku-band system with a 40 ft (12 m) dish antenna. It was constructed in 1993 to augment the LSSC imaging and data collections space debris.[13] It contributes data to the SSN.[9]

Westford Radio Telescope

The 18.3 m (60 ft) Westford Radio Telescope was built in 1961 by Lincoln Laboratory for Project West Ford as an X-band radar antenna.[14] It is located approximately 1.2 kilometers (0.75 mi) south of the Haystack telescope along the same access road. The antenna is housed in a 28.4 m (93 ft) radome and has an elevation-azimuth mount. Since 1981, it has been used primarily for geodetic very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).[15] By measuring the location of astronomical radio sources very accurately, geodetic VLBI techniques can be used to measure things such as changes in the axial tilt of the Earth.

Former telescopes

Millstone Hill Observatory

The Lincoln Laboratory Millstone Hill Radar Observatory, ca. 1958.

Millstone Hill Observatory is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric sciences research centre in Westford, Massachusetts. It is part of Haystack Observatory, which focuses primarily on radio astronomy. Millstone Hill is the location for two of the most well-known incoherent scatter radars in the world. These include a fully steerable 46-meter antenna called Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna (MISA), and a 67-meter fixed-zenith antenna. These radars are capable of measuring a vast array of ionospheric components, including temperature, ion concentrations and solar wind data. Data from Millstone Hill is publicly available on the MADRIGAL database, an upper atmosphere data system managed by MIT Haystack.

Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna

The Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna (MISA) is a 46 m (151 ft) fully steerable UHF antenna. Built in 1963, the system was initially installed at the Sagamore Hill Air Force facility in Wenham, Massachusetts, relocated in Millstone Hill in 1978. It is primarily used as a space surveillance system using incoherent scatter radar techniques.[17]

Zenith Antenna

The 67 m (220 ft) Zenith antenna was constructed in 1963 to use with the UHF transmitter. The radar system has been previously connected to another steerable 84-foot antenna. When the steerable antenna that was converted to L-band, the Zenith system was dedicated exclusively to incoherent scatter observations.[18]

See also


The Sun Drawing Exhibit

The Sun Drawing art exhibit at the Haystack Observatory was conceived and developed as part of the Global Sun Drawing Project by visual artist Janet Saad-Cook.[19][20] "Sun Drawings" are projected images created by reflecting sunlight from a variety of materials that are strategically positioned to relate to their specific location on earth. The reflections change shape and color in relation to the position of the sun, creating a four-dimensional artwork of varying reflections throughout the day and year. Similar installations for the Global Sun Drawing Project have been planned at other astronomically significant locations worldwide, including an exhibit at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico.[21][22]


  1. "MIT Haystack Observatory: History". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  2. "MIT Haystack Observatory: NEROC". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  3. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Atmospheric Sciences Millstone Hill Observatory". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  4. 1 2 "MIT Lincoln Laboratory: Facilities". MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  5. "Wallace Astrophysical Observatory". MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  6. "ATMoB Clubhouse". Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  7. Sebring, P. B. (January 1972). "Haystack Observatory, Northeast Radio Observatory Corporation, Westford, Massachusetts. Observatory report covering the period from 1 July 1970 through 30 June 1971". Bulletin of the Astronomical Society. 4: 51. Bibcode:1972BAAS....4...51S.
  8. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Haystack Radio Telescope". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  9. 1 2 "Millstone-Haystack". FAS. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  10. Staff (October 2014). "Range-independent Radar". R&D Magazine (Paper). 56 (5): 16. Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  11. "TechNotes - Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar" (PDF). MIT. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  12. Czerwinski, Mark G.; Usoff, Joseph M. (2014). "Development of the Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar" (PDF). Lincoln Laboratory Journal. MIT. 21 (1).
  13. "MIT Lincoln Laboratory: Facilities". MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  14. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Westford Radio Telescope". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  15. "Network Station Configuration File". International VLBI Service. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  16. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Deuterium Array". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  17. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Millstone Hill Radar MISA Antenna". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  18. "MIT Haystack Observatory: Millstone Hill Radar Zenith Antenna". MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  19. Saad-Cook, Janet (May 25, 2006). "Global Sun Drawing". www.janetsaadcook.com. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
  20. Saad-Cook, Janet (1995). "Sun Art - Sun Drawings". www.haystack.mit.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
  21. "Sun Drawings". www.haystack.mit.edu. MIT Haystack Observatory. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
  22. Star Dust, Vol II #11 (June 1991). "Janet Saad-Cook to Discuss VLA Sun Drawing Project" (PDF). www.capitalastronomers.org. National Capital Astronomers, Inc. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
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