CAPS News Story


Giant radio telescope produces first images

Share |






Friday, 4th February, 2011

A new UK telescope has taken radio pictures deep into space for the first time in the quest to discover more about the birth of stars and galaxies just after the Big Bang. The largest telescope in the world has revealed images of a quasar (a black hole in a distant galaxy) with unprecedented resolution. The images of the 3C196 quasar were taken by the International Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) Telescope, a network of radio telescopes designed to study the sky at the lowest radio frequencies accessible from the surface of the Earth.

Professor Michael Smith , from the University of Kent's Centre for Astrophysics & Planetary Science, said: "It's exhilirating that we can picture the distant Universe in such detail - all thanks to the Chilbolton radio receivers working together with those spread across north-western Europe. Now we can use LOFAR to address some of the big questions such as what is going on with the mysterious dark energy that is pushing the galaxies apart faster and faster? It is a privelege for Kent to be participating, thanks to SEPNet which networks us to other scientists in the south-east of England, rather analogous to how LoFAR gets telescopes to work in unison across Europe."

The new UK telescope, connected for the first time to its counterparts across Europe, is located at the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire and is the western most `telescope station' in LOFAR.  The facility is owned by the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), one of the partners in the LOFAR-UK project along with researchers from 22 UK universities, including the Universities of Kent as part of the SEPnet-Astro research theme.

The addition of Chilbolton to other stations in Europe makes the LOFAR array almost 1000 kilometres wide - ten times as large as the original array in the Netherlands - and creates the largest telescope in the world capable of generating images three times sharper than has been previously possible. The first images show a patch of the sky 15 degrees wide (as large as a thousand full moons) centred on the quasar 3C196.

``This is a very significant event for the LOFAR project and a great demonstration of what the UK is contributing,'' said Derek McKay-Bukowski, STFC/SEPnet Project Manager at LOFAR Chilbolton.``LOFAR works like a giant zoom lens - the more radio telescopes we add, and the further apart they are, the better the resolution and sensitivity. This means we can see smaller and fainter objects in the sky which will help us to answer exciting questions about cosmology and astrophysics.”

Dr Philip Best, Deputy LOFAR-UK leader from the University of Edinburgh. ``Even through the Hubble Space Telescope, in visible light quasar 3C196 is a single point. By adding the international stations like the one at Chilbolton we reveal two main bright spots. This shows how the International LOFAR Telescope will help us learn about distant objects in much more detail.''

LOFAR was designed and built by ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Netherlands and is currently being extended across Europe. As well as deep cosmology, LOFAR will be used to monitor the Sun's activity, study planets, and understand more about lightning and geomagnetic storms. LOFAR will also contribute to UK and European preparations for the planned global next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

As well as deep cosmology, LOFAR will be used to monitor the Sun’s activity, study planets like Jupiter, and understand more about lightning and geomagnetic storms. LOFAR will also contribute to UK and European preparations for the planned global next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).


Notes to editors

For more information please contact:
Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NH
Professor Michael Smith

The LOFAR station in the UK is the first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for many decades and was opened on the 20th September 2010. Like all the other stations, it is linked back to a central supercomputing facility at Groningen in the Netherlands using a high-speed network connection, the equivalent of 5000 standard domestic broadband connections combined into one.

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.

The LOFAR-UK consortium represents 22 British universities, making it the largest radio astronomy consortium in the country. Over 70 leading UK astronomers are directly involved in the project. The universities involved include Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hertfordshire, Leicester, Liverpool John Moores, Kent, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Open University, Oxford, Portsmouth, Queen Mary University of London, Sheffield, Southampton, Sussex, and University College London.