Astronomers hope to answer universe questions with LOFAR telescope

September 21, 2010
Official launch of LOFAR at the Chilbolton Observatory

The first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for decades, LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) that will help answer questions such as "are we alone?" and "how did black holes grow in our universe?" has been officially opened by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell at a ceremony at STFC's Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire. (Monday 20 September). The telescope, which is part of the European LOFAR project will 'listen' to the Universe at FM frequencies, helping astronomers detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed, to reveal more about how the Universe evolved.

During the ceremony, guests were able to observe a pulsar in real time using the Chilbolton station; Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first radio pulsars, so it was most appropriate for her to perform the opening. Professor Rob Fender of the University of Southampton, Principal Investigator of the LOFAR UK project said "The most amazing thing is that these small dipole antennas can pick up faint from over 10 billion years ago, when the was a fraction of its current size, and that this signal can be mapped over the entire sky by the without a single moving part."

LOFAR is a European project being led by ASTRON (the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy) which when complete, will see over 5000 separate antennas grouped into 'stations' all over Europe, including the Chilbolton Observatory to form the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope. LOFAR works at the lowest frequencies accessible from Earth which, combined with the latest in high-tech computing, allows wide areas of the sky to be surveyed opening up new possibilities for astronomers.

The installation of the 96 telescope radio antennas that make up the Chilbolton station was completed by scientists from a consortium of universities involving a large number of students. Derek McKay-Bukowski, Project Manager at LOFAR Chilbolton for STFC/SEPnet, said; “The team working on the project have been great. We've had the best of UK scientists and engineers, but also lots of university students too. For them, it has been an amazing learning experience."

The opening ceremony at Chilbolton Observatory preceded an event at INTECH Science Centre, Winchester, where guests were invited to hear a series of presentations from members of the LOFAR community, STFC and ASTRON followed by a live Planetarium show highlighting the LOFAR capabilities presented by Dr Jenny Shipway, INTECH Planetarium Manager.

At the INTECH event Professor Mike Garrett, General Director, ASTRON said "The International LOFAR Telescope is opening up a new window on the universe - there is a lot of excitement about just what we are going to discover. The LOFAR station in Chilbolton, will double the level of detail we will be able to see in the images LOFAR will produce. It's also fantastic to have the UK astronomical community fully onboard - they will help ensure that this transformational new telescope is fully exploited scientifically - we're looking forward to the first results".

LOFAR UK is funded through a collaboration of UK universities with the SEPnet consortium and the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council which includes RAL Space at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and STFC's Chilbolton Observatory.

LOFAR will focus on six areas of research:

  • The Epoch of Reionisation - understanding how the first stars and made the universe hot.
  • Extragalactic surveys - what is the history of star formation and black hole growth over cosmological time?
  • Transients and Pulsars - probing the extreme astrophysical environments that lead to transient bright bursts in the radio sky.
  • Cosmic rays - what is the origin of the most energetic particles in the universe?
  • Solar and space environment - mapping the structure of the solar wind, how it relates to solar bursts, and how it interacts with the Earth.
  • Cosmic Magnetism - what is the origin of the large-scale magnetic fields that pervade the universe?

Explore further: New radio telescope will listen to the Universe on the FM-band

Related Stories

Pulsars in many octaves

April 22, 2010

A unique combination of telescopes allowed astronomers to simultaneously observe the radio wavelength light from six different pulsars across wavelengths from only 3.5 centimetres up to 7 metres - a difference-factor of 200, ...

Astronomers seek to explore the cosmic Dark Ages

October 15, 2009

No place seems safe from the prying eyes of inquisitive astronomers. They've traced the evolution of the universe back to the "Big Bang," the theoretical birth of the cosmos 13.7 billion years ago, but there's still a long ...

Unique telescope looks at the universe

December 22, 2005

CONDOR, a deuterium observation telescope receiver, opened its eye to the universe for the first time last month and opened a new chapter in astronomy.

Recommended for you

Dating the Milky Way's disc

February 20, 2017

When a star like our sun gets to be very old, after another seven billion years or so, it will no longer be able to sustain burning its nuclear fuel. With only about half of its mass remaining, it will shrink to a fraction ...

Juno to remain in current orbit at Jupiter

February 19, 2017

NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, ...

SpaceX launches rocket from NASA's historic moon pad

February 19, 2017

A SpaceX rocket soared from NASA's long-idled moonshot pad Sunday, sending up space station supplies from the exact spot where astronauts embarked on the lunar landings nearly a half-century ago.

Hubble spotlights a celestial sidekick

February 17, 2017

This image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), a highly efficient wide-field camera covering the optical and near-infrared parts of the spectrum. While this lovely image ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

vidyunmaya
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2010
Sub: Welcome outlook-Cosmology Vedas interlinks help in time
This is most welcome feature -down to Earth and opens up new frontiers for astronomers. Do not get Big-Bang and Blackhole carry forward acount psychology, rather start a new beginning and see Environment sensex and Life support.>
I have an Omni-directional Antenna [Inventor]that help as well
www.newciv.org/nl...hp/_v162
Vidyardhi Nanduri

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.