H. E. Bignall

Curtin University, Bentley, Western Australia, Australia

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Publications (94)169.72 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Extreme scattering events (ESEs) are distinctive fluctuations in the brightness of astronomical radio sources caused by occulting plasma lenses in the interstellar medium. The inferred plasma pressures of the lenses are ~103 times the ambient pressure, challenging our understanding of gas conditions in the Milky Way. Using a new survey technique, we discovered an ESE while it was in progress. Here we report radio and optical follow-up observations. Modeling of the radio data demonstrates that the lensing structure is a density enhancement and the lens is diverging, ruling out one of two competing physical models. Our technique will uncover many more ESEs, addressing a long-standing mystery of the small-scale gas structure of our Galaxy.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Science
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    ABSTRACT: We present the results of a survey for intervening 21cm HI absorption in a sample of 10 nearby, gas-rich galaxies selected from the HI Parkes All-Sky Survey (HIPASS). This follows the six HIPASS galaxies searched in previous work and completes our full sample. In this paper we searched for absorption along 17 sightlines with impact parameters between 6 and 46 kpc, making one new detection. We also obtained simultaneous HI emission-line data, allowing us to directly relate the absorption-line detection rate to the HI distribution. From this we find the majority of the non-detections in the current sample are because sightline does not intersect the HI disc of the galaxy at sufficiently high column density, but that source structure is also an important factor. The detected absorption-line arises in the galaxy NGC 5156 ($z = 0.01$) at an impact parameter of 19 kpc. The line is deep and narrow with an integrated optical depth of 0.82 km s$^{-1}$. High resolution Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) images at 5 and 8 GHz reveal that the background source is resolved into two components with a separation of 2.6 arcsec (500 pc at the redshift of the galaxy), with the absorption likely occurring against a single component. We estimate that the ratio of the spin temperature and covering factor, $T_{\mathrm{S}}/f$, is approximately 950 K in the outer disc of NGC 5156, but further observations using VLBI would allow us to accurately measure the covering factor and spin temperature of the gas.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016
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    ABSTRACT: Compact radio sources sometimes exhibit intervals of large, rapid changes in their flux-density, due to lensing by interstellar plasma crossing the line-of-sight. A novel survey program has made it possible to discover these "Extreme Scattering Events" (ESEs) in real time, resulting in a high-quality dynamic spectrum of an ESE observed in PKS 1939-315. Here we present a method for determining the column-density profile of a plasma lens, given only the dynamic radio spectrum of the lensed source, under the assumption that the lens is either axisymmetric or totally anisotropic. Our technique relies on the known, strong frequency dependence of the plasma refractive index in order to determine how points in the dynamic spectrum map to positions on the lens. We apply our method to high-frequency (4.2-10.8 GHz) data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array of the PKS 1939-315 ESE. The derived electron column-density profiles are very similar for the two geometries we consider, and both yield a good visual match to the data. However, the fit residuals are substantially above the noise level, and deficiencies are evident when we compare the predictions of our model to lower-frequency (1.6-3.1 GHz) data on the same ESE, thus motivating future development of more sophisticated inversion techniques.
    Preview · Article · Dec 2015 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: We have conducted the first parallax and proper motion measurements of 6.7 GHz methanol maser emission using the Australian Long Baseline Array (LBA). The parallax of G339.884$-$1.259 measured from five epochs of observations is 0.48$\pm $0.08 mas, corresponding to a distance of $2.1^{+0.4}_{-0.3}$ kpc, placing it in the Scutum spiral arm. This is consistent (within the combined uncertainty) with the kinematic distance estimate for this source at 2.5$\pm $0.5 kpc using the latest Solar and Galactic rotation parameters. We find from the Lyman continuum photon flux that the embedded core of the young star is of spectral type B1, demonstrating that luminous 6.7 GHz methanol masers can be associated with high-mass stars towards the lower end of the mass range.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2015 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: Variability of radio-emitting active galactic nuclei can be used to probe both intrinsic variations arising from shocks, flares, and other changes in emission from regions surrounding the central supermassive black hole, as well as extrinsic variations due to scattering by structures in our own Galaxy. Such interstellar scattering also probes the structure of the emitting regions, with microarcsecond resolution. Current studies have necessarily been limited to either small numbers of objects monitored over long periods of time, or large numbers of objects but with poor time sampling. The dramatic increase in survey speed engendered by the Square Kilometre Array will enable precision synoptic monitoring studies of hundreds of thousands of sources with a cadence of days or less. Statistics of variability, in particular concurrent observations at multiple radio frequencies and in other bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, will probe accretion physics over a wide range of AGN classes, luminosities, and orientations, as well as enabling a detailed understanding of the structures responsible for radio wave scattering in the Galactic interstellar medium.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2015
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    ABSTRACT: Strong evidence exists for a highly significant correlation between the radio flux density and gamma-ray energy flux in blazars revealed by Fermi. However, there are central issues that need to be clarified in this field: what are the counterparts of the about 30% of gamma-ray sources that are as yet unidentified? Are they just blazars in disguise or they are something more exotic, possibly associated with dark matter? How would they fit in the radio-gamma ray connection studied so far? With their superb sensitivity, SKA1-MID and SKA1-SUR will help to resolve all of these questions. Even more, while the radio-MeV/GeV connection has been firmly established, a radio-VHE connection has been entirely elusive so far. The advent of CTA in the next few years and the expected CTA-SKA1 synergy will offer the chance to explore this connection, even more intriguing as it involves the opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum and the acceleration of particles up to the highest energies. We are already preparing to address these questions by exploiting data from the various SKA pathfinders and precursors. We have obtained 18 cm European VLBI Network observations of E>10 GeV sources, with a detection rate of 83%. Moreover, we are cross correlating the Fermi catalogs with the MWA commissioning survey: when faint gamma-ray sources are considered, pure positional coincidence is not significant enough for selecting counterparts and we need an additional physical criterion to pinpoint the right object. It can be radio spectral index, variability, polarization, or compactness, needing high angular resolution in SKA1-MID; timing studies can also reveal pulsars, which are often found from dedicated searches of unidentified gamma-ray sources. SKA will be the ideal instrument for investigating these characteristics in conjunction with CTA. (abridged)
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015
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    ABSTRACT: Adding VLBI capability to the SKA arrays will greatly broaden the science of the SKA, and is feasible within the current specifications. SKA-VLBI can be initially implemented by providing phased-array outputs for SKA1-MID and SKA1-SUR and using these extremely sensitive stations with other radio telescopes, and in SKA2 by realising a distributed configuration providing baselines up to thousands of km, merging it with existing VLBI networks. The motivation for and the possible realization of SKA-VLBI is described in this paper.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Interstellar scintillation (ISS) has been shown to be primarily responsible for the short term intraday variability (IDV) exhibited by extragalactic sources at centimeter wavelengths (e.g. Bignall et al. 2006 and references therein). For a source to scintillate its angular size must be comparable to that of the first Fresnel zone (Narayan 1992) which implies microarcsecond angular sizes for screen distances of tens to hundreds of parsecs. This has the potential to probe within a few light months of the central black hole (Bignall et al. 2006). The aim of the Microarcsecond Scintillation-Induced Variability (MASIV) survey was to provide a catalogue of at least a hundred AGNs that vary on timescales of hours to days to provide the basis of detailed studies of the IDV population drawn from a well-defined sample.
    No preview · Article · Oct 2014 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
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    ABSTRACT: The Micro-arcsecond Scintillation-Induced Variability (MASIV) Survey and its follow-up observations have provided large datasets of AGN intra-day variability (IDV) at radio wavelengths. These data have shown that IDV arises mainly from scintillation caused by scattering in the ionized interstellar medium (ISM) of our Galaxy, based on correlation with Galactic latitudes and line-of-sight Galactic electron column densities. The sensitivity of interstellar scintillation (ISS) towards source angular sizes has provided a new tool for studying the most compact components of radio-loud AGNs at microarcsecond (μas) scale resolution - much higher than any ground-based radio interferometer. We present here key results from the MASIV Survey and its follow-up observations, and point to relevant papers where these results have been published.
    No preview · Article · Oct 2014 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
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    ABSTRACT: The AuScope geodetic Very Long Baseline Interferometry array consists of three new 12-m radio telescopes and a correlation facility in Australia. The telescopes at Hobart (Tasmania), Katherine (Northern Territory) and Yarragadee (Western Australia) are co-located with other space geodetic techniques including Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and gravity infrastructure, and in the case of Yarragadee, satellite laser ranging (SLR) and Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) facilities. The correlation facility is based in Perth (Western Australia). This new facility will make significant contributions to improving the densification of the International Celestial Reference Frame in the Southern Hemisphere, and subsequently enhance the International Terrestrial Reference Frame through the ability to detect and mitigate systematic error. This, combined with the simultaneous densification of the GNSS network across Australia, will enable the improved measurement of intraplate deformation across the Australian tectonic plate. In this paper, we present a description of this new infrastructure and present some initial results, including telescope performance measurements and positions of the telescopes in the International Terrestrial Reference Frame. We show that this array is already capable of achieving centimetre precision over typical long-baselines and that network and reference source systematic effects must be further improved to reach the ambitious goals of VLBI2010.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2013 · Journal of Geodesy
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    ABSTRACT: We describe a new tool for studying the structure and physical characteristics of ultracompact active galactic nucleus (AGN) jets and their surroundings with μas precision. This tool is based on the frequency dependence of the light curves observed for intra-day variable radio sources, where the variability is caused by interstellar scintillation. We apply this method to PKS 1257-326 to resolve the core-shift as a function of frequency on scales well below ~12 μas. We find that the frequency dependence of the position of the scintillating component is rν–0.1 ± 0.24 (99% confidence interval) and the frequency dependence of the size of the scintillating component is dν–0.64 ± 0.006. Together, these results imply that the jet opening angle increases with distance along the jet: with nd > 1.8. We show that the flaring of the jet, and flat frequency dependence of the core position is broadly consistent with a model in which the jet is hydrostatically confined and traversing a steep pressure gradient in the confining medium with and np 7. Such steep pressure gradients have previously been suggested based on very long baseline interferometry studies of the frequency dependent core shifts in AGNs.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: Intraday variability (IDV) of the radio emission from active galactic nuclei is now known to be predominantly due to interstellar scintillation (ISS). The MASIV (The Micro-Arcsecond Scintillation-Induced Variability) survey of 443 flat spectrum sources revealed that the IDV is related to the radio flux density and redshift. A study of the physical properties of these sources has been severely handicapped by the absence of reliable redshift measurements for many of these objects. This paper presents 79 new redshifts and a critical evaluation of 233 redshifts obtained from the literature. We classify spectroscopic identifications based on emission line properties, finding that 78% of the sources have broad emission lines and are mainly FSRQs. About 16% are weak lined objects, chiefly BL Lacs, and the remaining 6% are narrow line objects. The gross properties (redshift, spectroscopic class) of the MASIV sample are similar to those of other blazar surveys. However, the extreme compactness implied by ISS favors FSRQs and BL Lacs in the MASIV sample as these are the most compact object classes. We confirm that the level of IDV depends on the 5\,GHz flux density for all optical spectral types. We find that BL Lac objects tend to be more variable than broad line quasars. The level of ISS decreases substantially above a redshift of about two. The decrease is found to be generally consistent with ISS expected for beamed emission from a jet that is limited to a fixed maximum brightness temperature in the source rest frame.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: We have used the broadband backend available at the ATCA to study the fast interstellar scintillation of quasar PKS 1257-326, resolving the core shift as a function of frequency on scales less than 10 microarcseconds. In this short paper we discuss the jet direction implied from the microarcsecond-scale core shift in PKS 1257-326.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2013 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
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    Artem V. Tuntsov · Hayley E. Bignall · Mark A. Walker
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    ABSTRACT: The interstellar scattering responsible for pulsar parabolic arcs, and for intra-day variability of compact radio quasars, is highly anisotropic in some cases. We numerically simulate these observed phenomena using totally anisotropic, power-law models for the electron density fluctuations which cause the scattering. By comparing our results to the scattered image of PSR B0834+06 and, independently, to dual-frequency light curves of the quasar PKS1257-326, we constrain the nature of the scattering media on these lines of sight. We find that models with spectral indices slightly below \beta=3, including the one-dimensional Kolmogorov model, are broadly consistent with both data sets. We confirm that a single physical model suffices for both sources, with the scattering medium simply being more distant in the case of B0834+06. This reinforces the idea that intra-day variability and parabolic arcs have a common cause in a type of interstellar structure which, though obscure, is commonplace. However, the implied gas pressure fluctuations are large compared to typical interstellar pressures, and the magnetic stresses are much larger still. Thus while these scattering media may be commonplace, their underlying dynamics appear quite extraordinary.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2012 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
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    ABSTRACT: The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) will give us an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the transient sky at radio wavelengths. In this paper we present VAST, an ASKAP survey for Variables and Slow Transients. VAST will exploit the wide-field survey capabilities of ASKAP to enable the discovery and investigation of variable and transient phenomena from the local to the cosmological, including flare stars, intermittent pulsars, X-ray binaries, magnetars, extreme scattering events, interstellar scintillation, radio supernovae and orphan afterglows of gamma ray bursts. In addition, it will allow us to probe unexplored regions of parameter space where new classes of transient sources may be detected. In this paper we review the known radio transient and variable populations and the current results from blind radio surveys. We outline a comprehensive program based on a multi-tiered survey strategy to characterise the radio transient sky through detection and monitoring of transient and variable sources on the ASKAP imaging timescales of five seconds and greater. We also present an analysis of the expected source populations that we will be able to detect with VAST.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2012 · Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia
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    ABSTRACT: The fraction of compact active galactic nuclei (AGNs) that exhibit interstellar scintillation (ISS) at radio wavelengths, as well as their scintillation amplitudes, have been found to decrease significantly for sources at redshifts z > 2. This can be attributed to an increase in the angular sizes of the \muas-scale cores or a decrease in the flux densities of the compact \muas cores relative to that of the mas-scale components with increasing redshift, possibly arising from (1) the space-time curvature of an expanding Universe, (2) AGN evolution, (3) source selection biases, (4) scatter broadening in the ionized intergalactic medium (IGM) and intervening galaxies, or (5) gravitational lensing. We examine the frequency scaling of this redshift dependence of ISS to determine its origin, using data from a dual-frequency survey of ISS of 128 sources at 0 < z < 4. We present a novel method of analysis which accounts for selection effects in the source sample. We determine that the redshift dependence of ISS is partially linked to the steepening of source spectral indices ({\alpha}^8.4_4.9) with redshift, caused either by selection biases or AGN evolution, coupled with weaker ISS in the {\alpha}^8.4_4.9 < -0.4 sources. Selecting only the -0.4 < {\alpha}^8.4_4.9 < 0.4 sources, we find that the redshift dependence of ISS is still significant, but is not significantly steeper than the expected (1+z)^0.5 scaling of source angular sizes due to cosmological expansion for a brightness temperature and flux-limited sample of sources. We find no significant evidence for scatter broadening in the IGM, ruling it out as the main cause of the redshift dependence of ISS. We obtain an upper limit to IGM scatter broadening of < 110\muas at 4.9 GHz with 99% confidence for all lines of sight, and as low as < 8\muas for sight-lines to the most compact, \sim 10\muas sources.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: The discovery that interstellar scintillation (ISS) is suppressed for compact radio sources at z >~ 2 has enabled ISS surveys to be used as cosmological probes. We discuss briefly the potential and challenges involved in such an undertaking, based on a dual-frequency survey of ISS carried out to determine the origin of this redshift dependence.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2012 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
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    Hayley E. Bignall · Jeffrey A. Hodgson
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    ABSTRACT: The line of sight towards the compact, radio loud quasar PKS 1257-326 passes through a patch of scattering plasma in the local Galactic ISM that causes large and rapid, intra-hour variations in the received flux density at centimetre wavelengths. This rapid interstellar scintillation (SS) has been occurring for at least 15 years, implying that the scattering ``screen'' is at least 100 AU in physical extent. Through observations of the ISS we have measured microarcsecond-scale ``core shifts'' in PKS 1257-326, corresponding to changing opacity during an intrinsic outburst. Recent analysis of VLA data of a sample of 128 quasars found 6 sources scintillating with a characteristic time-scale of < 2 hours, suggesting that nearby scattering screens in the ISM may have a covering fraction of a few percent. That is an important consideration for proposed surveys of the transient and variable radio sky.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2012 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union

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Publication Stats

609 Citations
169.72 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2010-2015
    • Curtin University
      • International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)
      Bentley, Western Australia, Australia
  • 2013
    • Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman
      Kuala Lumpor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • 2004-2009
    • Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe
      Hoogeveen, Drenthe, Netherlands
  • 2006
    • University of Tasmania
      • School of Mathematics & Physics
      Hobart Town, Tasmania, Australia
    • National Radio Astronomy Observatory
      Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
  • 2005
    • University of Groningen
      Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
  • 1999-2003
    • University of Adelaide
      Tarndarnya, South Australia, Australia