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Opening a window into the universe from Norderstedt

Posted September 10, 2015

Researchers from Bielefeld and Hamburg inaugurate part of the largest radio telescope in the world.

People have always been fascinated by the universe. The largest digital radio telescope, LOFAR, is now opening up a window. Stars, planets, and galaxies emit radio waves that can be many millions of years old. The signals received by each individual station are processed by a computer and assembled into an image of the heavens. Researchers at Bielefeld University and Universität Hamburg have set up the station together with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy ASTRON. Yesterday (09.09.2015) the 47th station of the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) is being officially inaugurated in Norderstedt.

A total of 192 antenna assemblies composed of more than 3,000 individual antennas in a field.

A total of 192 antenna assemblies composed of more than 3,000 individual antennas in a field.

‘With LOFAR we want to look far back into the past. For the first time, we shall be able to observe the formation of the oldest stars and galaxies in the universe,’ says Professor Dr. Dominik Schwarz a physicist at Bielefeld University. He and his team have planned the station in cooperation with Professor Dr. Marcus Brüggen and his team at the Hamburg Observatory [Hamburger Sternwarte]. The telescope in Norderstedt is helping to produce clear pictures of galaxies even when they are extremely distant. Some of its goals are to detect the first stars in the universe, to search for gravitational waves, and to measure magnetic fields in the cosmos.

A total of 192 antenna assemblies composed of more than 3,000 individual antennas in a field roughly the size of a football pitch are picking up the signals from space. Via data cable, these data, along with those from the other 49 LOFAR stations in Europe, are being transmitted to a supercomputer in the Netherlands. This assembles them into an image of the heavens. The idea is to use the radio telescope to study how the universe has evolved. To do this, the researchers need a map of the universe that is as exact as possible. ‘Once we know how the universe is constructed, it will be easier for us to work out how the early universe behaved shortly after the Big Bang when it was still less than one second old,’ says Dominik Schwarz.

The LOFAR telescope is composed of a network of antenna fields that pick up low-frequency radio waves. The telescope works within the previously largely unexplored frequency range between roughly 10 and 240 megahertz. This is why it is called LOFAR. The acronym stands for ‘LOw Frequency Array’.

The antenna field in Norderstedt is the sixth LOFAR station in Germany and has been running since the spring of 2015. By the end of the year, the international LOFAR telescope composed of a total of 50 antenna fields in six European countries should be complete. Alongside the stations in Germany, there are 38 in the Netherlands, three in Poland, and one each in Great Britain, France, and Sweden. For the entire system, data will be analysed from more than 10,000 antennas. LOFAR has been constructed by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy ASTRON.

Further information is available online at:

Source: Bielefeld University

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