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The growing number of Internet service providers using fixed wireless access technology is posing a problem for radio astronomers in Japan because the transmissions are threatening a project to explore the outer reaches of space.

The VERA Project, organized by the National Astronomical Observatory, aims to generate the first-ever three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy by “tuning in” to waves emitted by warm interstellar gas.

The project will be jointly conducted by four telescope stations around the country: the Mizusawa Astrogeo- dynamics Observatory in Iwate Prefecture; Chichijima Island, some 1,000 km south of Tokyo; the town of Iriki, Kagoshima Prefecture; and Ishi gakijima Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

The four telescopes, each of which boasts a parabolic antenna 20 meters in diameter, will begin to work in tandem by the end of this year to detect the waves, which travel at a frequency of 22 gigahertz.

Using the data gathered from the four locations, astronomers should be able to triangulate the location of the source.

The future of the project was threatened at the end of 1999 when the same frequency band the astronomers were using was allocated to FWA Internet services.

So far, the Mizusawa Observatory has been unaffected, as there are no FWA antennas nearby.

However, in Mitaka, a heavily populated area in western Tokyo, a survey showed that FWA is already interfering with astronomical observations.

In addition, the emergence of other IT-related communications devices is posing further problems.

Sources of interference range from mobile phones and high-definition satellite broadcasts to a communication project employing airships being promoted by the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry.

The Science Council of Japan, a group of renowned scholars, set up a committee in February to protect the interests of radio astronomers and their work.

“Doesn’t the unchecked expansion of commercial ventures pose a problem?” asked Satoru Ikeuchi, a Nagoya University professor who is a member of the council.

“It is technically possible to make astronomy and the new industry compatible. We hope the necessary costs for doing so will be shared by both sides,” he said.

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