'Ear on the universe' to revolutionize astronomy studies

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 21, 2010 11:00 hrs

LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) - the first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for decades will help answer questions such as "Are we alone?" and "how did black holes grow in our universe?"

The instrument was officially opened by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell at a ceremony at STFC's Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire on Monday, 20 September and will help astronomers detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed, to reveal more about how the Universe evolved.

"The most amazing thing is that these small dipole antennas can pick up faint radio signals from over 10 billion years ago, when the universe was a fraction of its current size, and that this signal can be mapped over the entire sky by the telescope without a single moving part," said Professor Rob Fender of the University of Southampton.

LOFAR, which is made of 96 telescope radio antennas, works at the lowest frequencies accessible from Earth which, combined with the latest in high-tech computing, allows wide areas of the sky to be surveyed opening up new possibilities for astronomers.

"The team working on the project have been great. We've had the best of UK scientists and engineers, but also lots of university students too. For them, it has been an amazing learning experience," Derek McKay-Bukowski, Project Manager at LOFAR Chilbolton said.

"It's also fantastic to have the UK astronomical community fully onboard -- they will help ensure that this transformational new telescope is fully exploited scientifically -- we're looking forward to the first results," said Professor Mike Garrett, ASTRON. (ANI)