ASTRON’s mission is to make discoveries in radio astronomy happen.
ASTRON is the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, is part of the institutes organisation of NWO. Our mission is to make discoveries in radio astronomy happen. We do this by developing new and innovative technologies, operating world-class radio astronomy facilities, and pursuing fundamental astronomical research.
ASTRON was founded in 1950 as the “Stichting Radiostraling van Zon en Melkweg” (Foundation for Radio radiation from the Sun and Milky Way), SRZM, exploring the new window to the universe that opened with the development of radio frequency technology.
Since its earliest days the institute has sustained a world-leading reputation through innovative technological developments and high impact astronomical discoveries. In its recent 2017 Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) review, conducted by an international panel of experts, ASTRON received rankings of “1 = world leading” across the board.
ASTRON has its headquarters based in Dwingeloo with telescope facilities at Westerbork, the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) and the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR) telescope. LOFAR consists of a core area near Exloo with a large, expanding network of antenna stations through the Netherlands and European partner countries. Today ASTRON employs about 180 personnel, including scientists, engineers and operations and support staff.
Whilst ASTRON has a centered presence in the northern NL, it operates within a highly international discipline with strong brand-identity. ASTRON has provided inspirational leadership through the period to define and design the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Telescope (1996 – 2018).
ASTRON also does business with many commercial partners. We continuously seek to maximise the use of our technologies for society and share our excitement in our discoveries with the public.
The mission of ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, is to “make discoveries in radio astronomy happen.” This mission is directed towards the pursuit of cutting-edge, fundamental science, coupled with the value of advanced observing facilities based on a strong technological R&D program.
ASTRON is a leading institute for radio astronomy development. Radio astronomy is a big science field. Progress demands leading-edge telescopes, all of which rest on significant investments by Government agencies. Our primary funding is as an institute of NWO, with a base budget that we leverage towards gaining further income from competitive grants from the Netherlands, Europe and beyond.
ASTRON has evolved significantly from its origin as the Foundation for Radio radiation from the Sun and Milky Way (SRZM) with a charge to develop and operate radio telescopes, the first of which were surplus wartime radar dishes. The discipline was driven strongly by Van de Hulst and Oort’s pioneering galactic observations of neutral hydrogen in the 1950’s and 1960’s. These early years established world-leading expertise that has since matured into a broad radio astronomy community in the Netherlands producing world-leading research on - among other things - pulsars, the evolution of the early universe, cosmic rays and space weather.
Our vision is for ASTRON to continue as one of the world’s premier organisations, with end-to-end systems expertise in radio astronomy technology and astronomical research, and to capitalise our expertise to the benefit of society.
Some of the most fundamental questions of our existence are explored by astronomy: What is the origin of the Universe, stars and galaxies? What is the Universe made of? What is the ultimate fate of the Universe? Is there life elsewhere (are we alone?)? How unique is the Earth as a habitable planet for advanced life? What are the natural forces exerting influence on the Earth’s ecosphere and how can we be alert to them? Are our fundamental theories of Physics correct?
In late 1960’s ASTRON designed and built the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) and in the 2000’s the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR); both are powerful radio telescopes used by hundreds of international astronomers, frequently working on large distributed teams. ASTRON’s astronomy research themes provide leadership and expertise towards the ongoing exploitation of these instruments and touch on many of the fundamental questions.
ASTRON is a leading partner in the global endeavour to design an advanced international telescope with many partners worldwide, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
Our vision looks to increasing ASTRON’s societal and global impact in an era of international mega-science facilities such as SKA.
To remain a relevant and forefront institute we must continue to develop new capabilities to support radio astronomy. Astronomers have wide-ranging scientific ambitions, and the radio regime will play a vital role in each. Some of the key topics include measuring the atmospheric composition of earth-like extra-solar planets and furthering the search for signs of life; studying the originating populations of gravitational wave events; galaxy evolution from the earliest phase of collapse; and establishing real-time space weather event monitoring to protect Earth’s systems from catastrophic solar storm events.
ASTRON’s five-action Strategic Plan 2017-2023 sets out how we will make significant progress towards three key long-term objectives to realise the above, in
- providing leadership for the Netherlands to become a full member of the new SKA IGO
- the realisation of a powerful and synergistic upgrade to the LOFAR telescope, coupled with
- the establishment of the NL SKA Science Data Centre as part of a powerful EU network for SKA, LOFAR and other key science facilities.
The strategy for astronomical research in the Netherlands is established in the National Committee for Astronomy (NCA) in which the NWO institutes ASTRON and SRON, the NOVA universities and the NWO domain ENW are represented. Coordination takes place on priorities for investments in research and infrastructure. This is reflected in a decadal plan that is reviewed mid-way through each decade. Over the past decades ASTRON has shown that the institute is able to adapt to this ever-changing landscape of scientific prioritisation.
Vitally, ASTRON demonstrated its ability to set the agenda in the field of radio astronomy by identifying the scientific opportunities and by shifting technological boundaries. ASTRON continues to respond to new questions and any reorganisation of the discipline, to retain and strengthen the major role of the Netherlands in this truly international discipline.
Within our technological R&D programme, ASTRON has system capabilities for advanced radio astronomy. Three key focus areas are antennas and radio-frequency systems, fast digital system processing, and high-performance computing architectures and algorithms. In all areas, the focus is on studying, demonstrating and applying state-of- the-art technology. The actual development of systems is usually achieved via close collaboration with partners in universities and industry. Increasingly we are working with our partner NWO Institutes SRON and Nikhef.