The world’s largest radio telescope LOFAR was officially launched on Saturday June 12th by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands during a special ceremony. This ceremony took place in the central LOFAR area of about 400 hectare between Exloo and Buinen in the eastern part of Drenthe, the Netherlands.
In a multimedia presentation, scientists, politicians, captains of industry and local entrepreneurs involved in the project, explained how important the LOFAR project has been for them and will be in the future. Subsequently, the Queen, surrounded by a group of school children, officially inaugurated LOFAR by pushing a button which started the observations with the telescope. The observations resulted after a few seconds in the first official scientific results with this super radio telescope.
Published by the editorial team, 14 June 2010
Representatives from consortia in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom then officially signed the memorandum that kicks off their scientific collaboration in LOFAR. The all-electronic, ‘next generation’ telescope, developed by ASTRON, now offers astronomers the joint use of a network of antennae that spreads from its core region in the northeast of the Netherlands to distances of a thousand kilometres across Europe.
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, the Low Frequency Array, is designed and built by ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The 25,000 antennas are spread over 36 fields in the north of the Netherlands and fields in Germany, Sweden, France and England. Glass fibres connect the antennas with a supercomputer at the University of Groningen. In this way, a giant telescope is created with a diameter of one hundred to one thousand kilometres.
The giant telescope will enable scientists to study how distant galaxies take shape, to find out when the early Universe was first lit up, to probe the properties of energetic cosmic particles, to map magnetised structures all across the sky, and to monitor the sun’s activity as well as a wide range of variable and explosive celestial objects. LOFAR uses sophisticated computing and high speed internet to combine all the signals to survey the sky in great detail. It is a pathfinder for the development of a global telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The LOFAR sensor network is also used for research in the fields of geophysics, precision agriculture and ICT. While the antennas observe the Universe, underground sensors collect data about the structure of the Earth. These data contribute to better models for subsidence, water management and gas exploration.
The LOFAR project is financed from the BSIK agreement, by NWO, ASTRON, the Northern Netherlands Provinces (SNN), the European Union and the project partners. The total investment is about 100 million euro. The advanced glass fibre network is also being used by about sixty schools in the region for extremely fast internet access.
Astronomers and engineers are already exploring the possibilities for a successor of the LOFAR telescope: the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA will be constructed through a global cooperation. This week, experts from all over the world are visiting Assen and surroundings during the International SKA Forum 2010. During this conference, they discuss the SKA and the impact such a radio telescope can have on industry, education and society as a whole. Thanks to innovative technologies developed by ASTRON and the experiences with LOFAR, ASTRON and the Dutch astronomical community play an important role in the realisation of the SKA.
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Copyright for all photos: Hans Hordijk.
For more information, please contact:
Femke Boekhorst, PR & Communication ASTRON. Tel.: 0521 595 204 and 06 21 23 42 43. E-mail: email@example.com.
David Redeker, NWO. Tel.: +31 (0)70 344 07 14. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about LOFAR can be found on: www.lofar.org.