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VLBI in the SKA Era: The Symposium Highlights

by Olga Bayandina (INAF, Italy; JIVE, the Netherlands), George Heald (CSIRO, Australia), Tiziana Venturi (INAF, Italy), Tao An (SHAO, China), and SKA-VLBI SOC

Figure 1: Gather Town SKA-VLBI 2022 conference picture. Credit: SKA-VLBI TOC.


On 14 February 2022, we fell in love with the prospects and planned capabilities of VLBI observations with the SKA arrays as the symposium “VLBI in the SKA Era” kicked off.

To accommodate both a large number of participants from all over the world and ongoing COVID restrictions, the meeting was held in an online format. The event platform Whova provided a wide range of opportunities for successful presentations, discussions, and interactions during the conference. The topic of the event ignited a great interest in the scientific community and attracted more than 400 participants from around 40 countries. The event could be tracked on social media using the hashtag #SKAVLBI2022.

The conference agenda was split into ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ sessions to provide opportunity for attendees from different time zones to watch talks in real time. Nevertheless, since the placement of the sessions could not suit everyone, recordings of all the talks were available directly on the conference platform, almost immediately after each conference day.

Around 80 talks were presented in 9 scientific sessions. Much attention was given to gender balance in the selection of invited and contributed talks. Invited speakers were around 50/50 in gender balance; the overall speaker list had better gender balance than the full participant list. A broad set of topics was covered in 5 days of the conference, such as, for example, geodesy and astrometry, AGN, spectral line, transients. The invited speakers presented an overview of the technical and scientific aspects of the operation of the currently functioning VLBI facilities as well as the outlined perspectives of the cooperation of the SKA telescopes with the global VLBI networks.

To take into account the expertise held within the broad audience of the conference, 9 discussion sessions were organised. The discussions focused on a set of topics from technical issues like RFI and astrometric calibration to broader themes like SKA-VLBI requirements and the Global VLBI Alliance.

Another attempt to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interactions during the online conference was made during the poster sessions which were held in Gather Town. The intense programmes of the conference succeeded in accommodating most of the submitted contributions in the oral format, however some of the contributions were delivered in the form of poster presentations. The best poster prize was awarded to a JIVE Support Scientist Benito Marcote.

The outcomes of the conference will be summarised in a paper, which will serve as a basis for future actions towards the integration of VLBI as SKA observing mode. The conference’s SOC is currently working on the white paper. Among the topics that will be addressed in this paper are the following: SKA-VLBI requirements, SKA-VLBI data chain and products, software developments and data reduction packages. The outcome of the very lively discussion concerning the VLBI requirements for the SKA Regional Centres will be reported, as well as the preliminary issues raised concerning the SKA operations and integration with the other arrays.

The roadmap leading to SKA-VLBI operations includes several milestones, and it is exciting to see that the community is enthusiastic and ready to face this challenging adventure.