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LOFAR crosses the Alps; Italy joins

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Today, 16 April 2018, Italy officially became a member of the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT). A contract has been signed by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) for a Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) antenna station. It will be installed at the Medicina Radio Observatory site, 30 kilometres from Bologna, Italy.

LOFAR is a world-class facility for astronomical research. It has been designed and developed by ASTRON, The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and now has seven partner countries in Europe. Using modern ‘smart electronics’, it reaches all the way from Earth’s upper atmosphere, our Sun, our Milky Way galaxy, right to the origins of the first galaxies, black holes and gas clouds at the 'birth' of the Universe.

INAF will invest more than 2.5 M € over the next five years and will also lead a consortium expanding to other Italian Universities in the near future. INAF engineers will participate in the ASTRON-led drive to develop the next generation of state-of-the-art LOFAR electronics. The Medicina LOFAR antenna station will be purchased from AstroTec Holding BV (a subsidiary of ASTRON). For the manufacturing of the dedicated components for this LOFAR station, most of this work is to be contracted out to industries.

Dr. René Vermeulen, Director of the ILT, is delighted with the Italian membership: “By crossing the Alps, LOFAR will get a rounder antenna network across Europe, to benefit its image quality for all astronomers. The new ILT partnership reinforces the long-standing bonds of exchange and collaboration on radio astronomy in Europe; the Netherlands and Italy both have a very distinguished track record in this field.”

“Italy's entrance in the International LOFAR Telescope represents an important step for INAF” says Prof. Nichi D’Amico, President of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics. “LOFAR is a research infrastructure at the forefront of low-frequency radio astronomy and is actually a pathfinder of the great radio astronomy facility SKA (Square Kilometer Array), in which INAF and Italy are deeply involved in the construction and future operations. WithLOFAR we will be able to acquire top-level scientific observations and at the same time to train the new generations of scientists in the use of SKA for the coming years”.

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More information about LOFAR
LOFAR receives the lowest frequencies that can be observed from the Earth (30 – 240 MHz). This supplies unique information to understand a wide range of phenomena and to test the laws of physics under extreme conditions in the Universe.

The international LOFAR telescope (ILT) is a European network of radio antennas, connected by a high-speed fibre optic network. Of the 51 antenna stations, 38 are in the Netherlands, 6 in Germany, 3 in Poland and 1 each in France, England, Sweden and Ireland. A station in Latvia is planned for 2019. The core of LOFAR is located in Exloo in the Netherlands.

With the data of thousands of antennas together, powerful computers create a virtual receiving dish with a diameter of two thousand kilometres. Consequently, the telescope has an ultra-sharp and highly sensitive vision, unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

Up to now, the ILT spreads over larger distances east-west than north-south in Europe. The joining of Italy is a step to round out this network. Consequently, the quality of the images that the ILT will be able to make will improve. The ILT will also be able to more easily observe objects that are further south in the sky.