The first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for decades officially opened this week at the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire.
The telescope, which is part of the European LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) project, will ’listen’ to the Universe at FM frequencies, helping astronomers detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed and revealing more about how the Universe evolved.
The antennae, which were built this summer by students, lecturers and researchers from the universities of Portsmouth, Oxford and Southampton, join over 5,000 separate antennae spread in ’stations’ all over Europe to form the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope picking up faint radio signals from over 10 billion years ago.
Prof Bob Nichol of Portsmouth University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, and acting LOFAR UK spokesperson, said: ’LOFAR is a revolutionary telescope that can study a host of astronomical objects from distant galaxies to our own Sun. It’s quite remarkable for a bunch of flimsy wired antennae in a field in Hampshire’
Prof Mike Garrett, general director of Astron, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said: ’The LOFAR station in Chilbolton will double the level of detail we will be able to see and there is a lot of excitement about just what we are going to discover.’
LOFAR is a European project being led by Astron, while LOFAR UK is funded through a collaboration of UK universities with the SEPnet consortium and the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council, which includes RAL Space at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and STFC’s Chilbolton Observatory.