A team of astronomers and engineers at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, has successfully detected correlated interferometric radio signals, so-called "fringes", from the sky with the first three, recently completed, full-scale LOFAR stations.
Published by the editorial team, 20 July 2009
The Low Band Antenna (LBA) stations were pointed at Cygnus A, a very powerful radio galaxy associated with an ultra massive black hole. The signals from this galaxy travelled for 600 million years to get here - once the signals were received at the LOFAR stations, they started a new and much shorter journey via the fiber network that is connected to the IBM Blue-Gene supercomputer in Groningen. From there, the correlated data were sent to Dwingeloo for final processing.
The first complete LOFAR station, located near Exloo, Drenthe. This station was one of several that performed the first astronomical observations. The photo shows the different LOFAR Low-band and High-band antennas.
The team observed the entire frequency band from 30 to 78 MHz at a spectral resolution of 763 Hz. A day later, the experiment was successfully repeated using the High Band Antennas (HBAs) between 120 and 168 MHz. The stations that were used were between 5 and 20 km apart. Once completed, LOFAR will consist of more than 50 stations distributed across Europe with baselines ranging from 30 m up to 1500 km.
Dr. Michiel Brentjens, one of the astronomers at ASTRON: "This may seem quite straightforward, but many things had to go right to get these results. If one element in the chain does not work, you do not get the right data on your screen." According to Brentjens the data quality is superb, much better than expected at this early stage in the telescopes commissioning phase. Prof. Michael Garrett, general director of ASTRON, praised the efforts of his staff, and the contribution of other national and international partners: "This is a major step forward for the LOFAR project. The first results give us a taste of what will follow; we are truly opening up a new window on the early Universe."