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(Credit: Reinout van Weeren (University of Leiden) / ASTRON)

The LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR) is a radio telescope working at the lowest frequencies accessible from Earth.

LOFAR-UK is the first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for many decades. Combining thousands of simple dipole receivers with digital signal processing and high-performance computing, LOFAR will be able to survey wide areas of the sky and will open up a new window for astronomers.

LOFAR will undertake a number of key science projects, including pulsars and radio-transients, cosmic-ray studies, ionospheric research and solar physics. Astronomers also hope to detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed and will observe some of the most distant galaxies, revealing more about how the Universe evolved.

The overall LOFAR system comprises many individual arrays of antennas called stations. Each station has two phased arrays, each of which can be digitally controlled to change which part of the sky it is most sensitive to. Additionally, the arrays can be controlled in such a way that they can look in multiple directions at once. The two arrays operate in the VHF radio band. The Low-Band Array (LBA) operates between 30 and 80 MHz and the High-Band Array (HBA) operates from 120 to 240 MHz.

These LOFAR stations are located in several countries in western Europe. The first UK LOFAR station has been built at the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire. Like all the other stations, it is linked back to the central computing facility, based at Groningen in the Netherlands, using high-speed network connections. At the core of this network there is a Blue-Gene/P supercomputer which processes and combines the data to generate the final images of the radio sky.

The Chilbolton site, will produce approximately seven petabytes of raw data each year, which will be transferred in real time to Groningen. Together, this pan-European project is the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

LOFAR-UK is a consortium of astronomers representing 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 LOFAR Chilbolton station was officially opened on the 20 September 2010 by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Official opening of LOFAR UK at Chilbolton - STFC
(Credit: STFC)

For further information:

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