PICTOR: A free-to-use Radio Telescope

Hi all!

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on PICTOR.

PICTOR is an open-source radio telescope that allows anyone to observe the radio sky using its convenient web platform for free. The goal of this effort is to introduce students, educators, astronomers and others to the majesty of the radio sky, promoting radio astronomy education, without the need of building a large and expensive radio telescope by the user.

PICTOR consists of a 1.5-meter parabolic antenna that allows anyone to make continuous and spectral (i.e. hydrogen line) drift-scan observations of the radio sky in the 1300~1700 MHz regime for free.

For more information, please take a look at the Website: https://www.pictortelescope.com/, the GitHub repository: https://github.com/0xCoto/PICTOR (stars are appreciated!) and/or the PDF guide that includes some introductory information on radio astronomy as well as instructions on how to use the telescope:www.pictortelescope.com/Observing_the_radio_sky_with_PICTOR.pdf

All feedback is welcome and highly encouraged! :smiley:


Very cool!

I might try and do something similar using my LimeSDR Mini. To give a max of 30.72 MHz bandwidth between 30Mhz and 3.5Ghz (It supports down to 10 Mhz but its a bit odd with the NCO to do that.)

Just a problem of building antennas for that sort of stuff.

The antenna always depends on your goals: what do you wish to observe? Fainter radio sources in the sky obviously demand a greater antenna aperture to observe with a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio (S/N), so the antenna can be very small or very large, depending on your observation goals. :slight_smile:

PICTOR just surpassed 130 unique users, with hundreds of observations on the archive!! :partying_face:


congratulations good job

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Is there a way to access this archive? I tried to do an observation once and I think either I entered something wrong or something else.

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Hi, how long ago was this? You should receive your observation data attached as an image via email as soon as the observation is complete. Perhaps there was a little bug with the telescope at the time (it rarely presents an issue these days)? Please try observing again and ensure your email is correctly inputted. If you’re still having issues, please let me know! :slight_smile:

P.S.: The archive contains the raw data of every observation — I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for. The final (post-processed) data should be delivered to you via email.


Thank you for this nice project!

I may have missed the information as nobody is asking but I have not seen the position of the telescope anywhere (and I guess it is pointing to zenith).

Would it be possible to do some 24h observations (a few) or do you already have too much users?

I would be interested with the raw data of the observations too, would it be possible to have an access to them?


Hi, thanks for your feedback,

The approximate position of the telescope is mentioned on page 6, section When is the best time to observe the hydrogen line? in the PICTOR PDF Guide. Setting the location to Athens, Greece in Stellarium should give you fine results (just like any location in Greece), given the telescope’s 3 dB beamwidth (HPBW). PICTOR is indeed pointing to zenith (the altitude is potentially adjustable on request (e.g. for intergalactic HI mapping and rotation curve plotting)).

The telescope is quite busy, I’d say. I’ll update you with some stats soon. But if you think you can get any interesting data with 24-hour observations, let me know and I can make sure RFI is mitigated during the observation(s) (PICTOR already mitigates RFI automatically, but if you really want to do science with it, I can help “clean up” the radio environment a bit if necessary).

The raw data of every observations is stored on an archive for further potential analyses, given you’re familiar with the usage of plot.py/plot_hi.py. The role of each file is described on PICTOR’s GitHub repository, but given most users just want to use the telescope and have their data automatically processed and analyzed by the telescope for them, I haven’t made the raw data archive publicly available (due to the lack of interest), but I’m always happy to provide raw data to users.


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OK, then I missed it :slight_smile:
May be this information is important enough to appear in the first pages of the documentation, and/or on the web form.

There are some 24h observations made with ground station #484 (see https://radiotelescopelavillette.wordpress.com/resultat-provisoires-des-observations/, sorry in french you will have to activate automatic translation). I wondered if we could do comparisons. I am not sure whether any science is present, but I guess it would be fun and instructive for us all.
#484 is also currently blocked at zenith, to heavy to be moved and we do not have the same latitude (Paris) so I do not see how we could do any interesting comparisons for the moment. We would need to have parallel axis (possibly at different times).


May be this information is important enough to appear in the first pages of the documentation, and/or on the web form.

Added to both the homepage and /observe, as suggested. :slight_smile:

We may be able to do some work with the two dishes, but we’ll have to align them so they point in the same direction. I’m not sure what kind of software the French telescope is running for radio astronomy, but I think it’d benefit from PICTOR’s open source software, especially if the two dishes were to collaborate (either interferometrically, or statistically i.e. data averaging for S/N improvement (which is easier)).

Let me know if you’d like to try something like this. Could also get a couple of other dishes online for such experiment.


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It would be nice to have a way to schedule a recording task for later (for a specified time).
Interesting astronomical events happen at a predictable time and it is difficult to be begin the keyboard at this time.
Would it be possible or difficult to have this feature?

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I’ve received requests for adding a feature for scheduling observations before. The thing is that it’s slightly complicated, but most importantly, it takes time and effort to implement.

Unfortunately, despite the large active user base that observes on a regular basis, I am the only one doing all the work and contributing to the project, with relatively very little help from others. I don’t ask for donations either, because I believe education should be free, but it would be more than appreciated if open source enthusiasts/developers could contribute to the project on GitHub.

If you really need to schedule an observation, you could either schedule an appropriate POST observation to /observe.php (in your preferred programming language, or using online tools), or let me know so I can set something up for you running on my end.

So I apologize, but a more automated way of doing this will have to wait.



POST will be perfect.
Thank you.

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Wrote up a quick little Python snippet for you:

import datetime
import time

#Define datetime of observation (local computer time)
target_time = datetime.datetime(2019, 18, 11, 3)  #November 18, 2019 (3 AM)
while datetime.datetime.now() < target_time:
    time.sleep(10) #10-second throttle

#Change observation parameters as you wish
obs_name = 'My HI observation'
f_center = '1420'
bandwidth = '2.4mhz'
channels = '2048'
nbins = '1000'
duration = '60'
email = 'email@example.com'

#Submit POST request to /observe.php
myobj = {'obs_name': obs_name, 'f_center': f_center, 'bandwidth': bandwidth, 'channels': channels, 'nbins': nbins, 'duration': duration, 'email': email, 'submit_btn': '1'}
requests.post('https://pictortelescope.com/observe.php', data = myobj)



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Thank you! it will useful.

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As promised, here’s some stats about PICTOR:

  • :tada: Nearly 1,500 observations on the archive
  • :rocket: 300+ unique users from all around the world
  • :earth_americas: Just in September alone, we had users from 55+ different countries!

For anyone interested, we’ve just launched a Community Forum for people interested in sharing their observations, building a radio telescope, sharing (open source) software and more!

Go and make your first post today! :point_right: community.pictortelescope.com


That is SUPER awesome, thank you for making and sharing this!
Amazing work.
I just stared and forked the repo, hopefully I would be able to help in the future in some way.
Nicely done :slight_smile: