News | June 28, 2010

Largest Radio Telescope Gets Royal Seal Of Approval

The world's largest radio telescope, LOFAR, was officially launched at a special ceremony in the Netherlands by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

LOFAR which stands for Low Frequency Array, is a collaboration between France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, including the University of Leicester.

The all-electronic ‘next generation' telescope developed by ASTRON in the Netherlands can now offer to astronomers the joint use of a network of antennae that spreads from its core region in the northeast of the Netherlands to distances of thousands of kilometers across Europe. LOFAR will consist of thousands of antennae spread across stations throughout Europe, of which Chilbolton in Hampshire is one. Their signals, brought together by a supercomputer in the Netherlands, give a very wide view of the sky.

Professor Paul O'Brien of the University of Leicester said, "LOFAR will be the most powerful radio telescope in the world observing in a waveband more usually associated with FM radio. We will use it to observe explosive transients on the sky, which signal the birth of black holes, and to detect radio emission from planets around other stars.

Dr. René Vermeulen, Director of the Radio Observatory at ASTRON, is delighted about the international collaboration. He says: "With its European dimension LOFAR will serve a large international community of astronomers to study the Universe at the lowest frequencies accessible from the Earth in astounding detail."

LOFAR uses sophisticated computing and high speed internet to combine all the antennae's signals to survey the sky in great detail. The giant telescope will enable scientists to study how distant galaxies take shape, find out when the early Universe was first lit up, probe the properties of energetic cosmic particles, map magnetised structures all across the sky, and monitor the sun's activity as well as a wide range of variable and explosive celestial objects. It is a pathfinder for the development of the next generation global radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), in which the UK has a strong involvement.

SOURCE: University of Leicester

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