Skip to main content

New lease of life for the Westerbork telescope

NWO grant for an innovative radio camera
The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), in the context of its Large Grants programme, has awarded a grant of nearly 2.5 million Euro to astronomers of ASTRON Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy and the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen. This funding enables the implementation of an important improvement of the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT), allowing this facility to remain one of the world’s most advanced radio telescopes.

Published by the editorial team, 26 May 2010

The APERTIF project concerns the replacement of the current radio antennas, a single antenna in each of the fourteen dishes of the WSRT, by an array of more than a hundred coupled antennas near the focal point of each dish. This revolutionary ‘radio camera’ widens the existing field-of-view of the Westerbork telescope, currently similar to the size of the full moon, by more than a factor thirty. Such an expansion of its field-of-view allows astronomers to study galaxies, pulsars and magnetic fields in the universe, in a new and unprecedented manner. The required technological developments for this advanced antenna system has been funded by previous grants from NWO and the European Union. The present grant from NWO is instrumental for the successful scientific commissioning and exploitation of this technology for the WSRT.

ASTRON, in collaboration with the Dutch universities and the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in particular, has a strong tradition in developing and implementing new technologies for radio astronomy, and is recognised internationally to play a leading role in this area. The technological research and development is focused on the implementation of so-called ‘Antenna Array’ technology, superseding the classic idea of dishes, each with a single antenna. By employing ‘Antenna Array’ technology for radio telescopes, it becomes possible to observe larger areas of the sky much faster.

This new technology can be applied in several ways. The functionality of the revolutionary LOFAR telescope, designed and built by ASTRON and to be inaugurated by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix on June 12, is also based on this technology.
The successful development of ‘Antenna Array’ technology and the deployment of it in APERTIF and LOFAR enables ASTRON and the Dutch astronomical community to play an important role in the definition and construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA is the next generation radio telescope, a hundred times more sensitive than the Westerbork telescope or LOFAR, and will be constructed by an international consortium of institutes and universities in which the Netherlands will play a leading role. This new telescope and the role of ASTRON and the Netherlands in this consortium are topic of a large conference to be held in Drenthe on June 9-16: the International SKA Forum. This meeting, organised by ASTRON and NWO, is an important opportunity to further develop European and global collaboration for SKA.

For more information you can contact:

Dr. Tom Oosterloo
senior astronomer
Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON)
Oude Hoogeveensedijk 4
7991 PD Dwingeloo
The Netherlands


Tel. : (+31)-(0)521-595100


Prof.dr. Marc Verheijen
University of Groningen
Kapteyn Astronomical Institute
Landleven 12
9747 AD Groningen
The Netherlands
Tel. : (+31)-(0)50-3634073

More about the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT)

The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope consists of 14 dishes, each of 25 meter diameter. The dishes are arranged perfectly in an east-west orientation along a 2.7 kilometer long track. A radio antenna in the focal point of each dish records the weak signals from the universe. The signals from all antennas are being combined by a supercomputer constructing digital images of the sky. Images made with the current antennas extend over an area of the sky that is similar to the full moon. This field-of-view will be significantly expanded by means of the APERTIF ‘Antenna Array’.



Subscribe to our newsletter. For previous editions, click here.