Monday, December 21, 2009

LOFAR-UK Statement on STFC Science Programme Prioritisation 2010-2015

LOFAR-UK Statement on the STFC Science Prioritisation 2010-2015 (pdf file)

LOFAR is a large new radio astronomy facility in the final phases of construction and commissioning. It will be the largest low-frequency radio telescope in the world, and is the major pathfinder for the low-frequency component of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The science case for LOFAR is extremely diverse, from planetary astrophysics to galaxy formation to the epoch of re-ionisation, facilitated by its multiple very large fields of view and resultant unparalleled survey speed.

LOFAR-UK is a consortium of astronomers with the goal of constructing and operating one or more antenna stations in the UK forming a key part of the International LOFAR Telescope across Europe. The consortium represents over 20 British universities, making it the largest radio astronomy collaboration in the country. More than 70 leading UK astronomers are directly involved in the project. Since 2005, LOFAR-UK has raised £1.2M from its member institutions independently of the research councils. We have been engaged with, and multiply-reviewed by STFC, as funding was sought for additional UK stations, technical development effort and, crucially, the bulk of the operating costs for the first station, dominated by the costs of data transport to the supercomputer in The Netherlands. All the various STFC panel recommendations have been for significant funding for the project. With the support of STFC, LOFAR-UK's independent funds were therefore used to purchase the first station, sited at the STFC facility at Chilbolton.

Our most recent request to STFC was therefore for running costs for this station, now under construction. These costs are at a level around 0.1% of the total current ground-based astronomy award, and this extremely modest operational budget would enable the UK astronomy community to participate in over 40% of the science from the International LOFAR Telescope, a 200MEuro facility, giving an extremely good return on STFC's investment. During the response to the STFC funding crisis, LOFAR-UK was reviewed by both the Far- Universe- and Near-Universe Advisory Panels (FUAP and NUAP respectively) as well as the Ground-Based Facilities Review (GBFR). All three panels rated the project extremely highly; in an open poll of UK astronomers, which was published in the GBFR, LOFAR-UK was rated as the sixth (out of 26) most important facility for UK astronomy over the next 10 years (only ESO facilities [ESO, VISTA, ALMA and E-ELT] and SKA R&D were ahead of it).

However, on Dec 16, LOFAR-UK was informed by STFC that there will be no funding of the project by the research council. This puts the entire project, and with it any UK involvement in LOFAR, in jeopardy.

LOFAR-UK will campaign to get this decision by STFC reviewed as soon as possible.

Efflesberg LOFAR Station Maps Sky with HBA

Check out this press release from the Max Planck Institut for Radio Astronomy at Efflesberg describing the first all-sky map of the radio sky made with a complete LOFAR station in the HBA (high band antenna) 110-190 MHz freq. band.

Nice aerial picture of the complete Efflesberg LOFAR station as well:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LOFAR UK on BBC Radio Solent

An interview I recorded with BBC Radio Solent reporter Matt Treacy last week during the LOFAR LBA test installation at Chilbolton aired this morning on the local Hampshire radio. It will be available for the next 7 days on the BBC iPlayer at this location: iPlayer link (about 45 minutes into the show).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Owain's Last LOFAR Chilbolton Status Update

Owain Davies (the STFC LOFAR Station Manager at Chilbolton) is leaving STFC at the end of December for a position in the Earth Stations Engineering Group within Inmarsat. In his last status report about LOFAR (edited version below, which is actually a combination of his Dec 7th and Nov 23rd reports found in full for the LOFAR-UK scientists on the LOFAR-UK Wiki) he says:

"It is with regret that I bid farewell to LOFAR at this stage, particularly as it was moving in to the phase that I was most looking forward to. Chilbolton LOFAR was the first project where STFC entrusted me with the role of project manager and the skills and experiences I have gained during this time have been of great benefit to my other areas of work at Chilbolton over this past year."

Owain has handed over his role to Mike Willis from STFC/RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory). Mike has managed various radio wave propagation contracts from Ofcom and is also an active participant in the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). Prior to taking the role of LOFAR Station Manager, Mike had been investigating Recognised Spectrum Access (RSA) status for the Chilbolton site. Derek McKay, the SEPnet Commissioning Engineer, will also continue to shadow the LOFAR Station manager as well as working on SEPnet activities.


Two deliveries of the LOFAR kit have been accepted at the Chilbolton Observatory. In the car park there is now the LOFAR container, the LBA (low band antenna) ground planes and the weed suppressant foils. Inside the Chilbolton main building is the electronic equipment which will go inside the container, the LBA antennae, and the LBA and HBA (high band antenna) cables.

HBA Tiles: Delivery of these parts are tricky to organise, as they need to be stored carefully and they are quite large. ASTRON are keen to deliver some of the tiles over the winter, with the rest warehoused in the Netherlands. STFC/Chilbolton are keen to accept the tiles and possible storage solutions are being investigated.

In the below picture from the main LOFAR website, you can see HBAs in the foreground (and LBAs in the background) - obviously very different designs for the two wavenlength ranges for LOFAR.

Site Preparation

The STFC design specification for the Chilbolton LOFAR site is complete, and it is with the contractors for pricing and scheduling. Expect news on this in the next status update.

Chilbolton LOFAR Launch Event

The date of Thursday 1 July 2010 has been set for the Chilbolton LOFAR Launch Event, and while the exact details are still to be decided, the Intech Science Centre and Planetarium has been booked for the event, and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, will open the Chilbolton LOFAR Station.

Intech is a hands-on interactive science and technology centre, administered by the educational charity, The Hampshire Technology Centre Trust Ltd, with the specific purpose of promoting the knowledge and understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It is located 20 minutes drive from Chilbolton and has good links to the M3 and Winchester train station. A Holiday Inn is being built next door to Intech and will be open in March 2010. The Intech planetarium will seat 170 and offers an excellent venue to enthuse an audience in the work that LOFAR-UK will do.

Current Projected Timeline

  • LBA + LOFAR container: Early spring 2010
  • Network Connection: 4 month lead time, LOFAR-UK to decide when order is placed
  • HBA: Spring 2010

    Owain ends:
    "LOFAR was the most challenging, yet rewarding project I have worked on during my 8 years at the Chilbolton Observatory. I wish you all well and the Chilbolton LOFAR Station every success. "

    Thanks Owain. We all wish you well at Inmarsat too.
  • Friday, December 11, 2009

    Four LBA Antennas Constructed as Test at Chilbolton

    A team of LOFAR-UK scientists went to Chilbolton this Tuesday to try to build some LBAs (low band antennas) on site. In the end we put up four antennas in two teams of four. Here's the team behind one of the finished antennas (note for this test we did not use the ground sheets, nor are the antennas at the final LOFAR location - they are instead on the test range - much closer to the main buildings).

    [from left to right: Gordon Brown (STFC); Hana Schumacher and Bob Nichol (Portsmouth); Griffin Foster, Sascha Schediwy and Alejo Martinez-Sansigre (Oxford); Martin Bell (Southampton); Mike Willis (STFC); Anne Stanford (Portsmouth); Judith Croston (Southampton); Derek McKay (STFC); Me (Portsmouth); and Owain Davies (STFC)]

    Here's a picture of all 4 antennas we built.

    Here's one of the teams finishing off an antenna while I talk to a BBC Radio Solent reporter in the background (more in that soon hopefully).

    We were able to connect up one of the antennas to check the signal - in effect getting "first light", at least from a single LOFAR antenna at the Chilbolton site. It was an exciting moment for us as you can see.

    And here's what we were looking at!

    (thanks to Judith Croston for most of the pictures I posted here today).

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    What will LOFAR see?

    Courtesy of BrentJens on You Tube, a sneak peak of the radio sky above LOFAR.

    (link to movie.)

    Explanation from BrentJens:
    All sky movie of the radio sky above the LOFAR prototype near Exloo, The Netherlands, at a frequency of 50 MHz. The data were taken at 29 and 30 April 2008. The edge of the circle is the horizon. North is up, East towards the left. The movie shows Cas A and Cyg A twinkling (scintillating) like stars, as well as the Galactic centre rising and setting. Near the end of the movie, there are thunderstorms over Germany visible towards the east. The total duration of the observation was 24 hours.

    Date Set for Opening of Chilbolton Station

    Mark your diaries - the Chilbolton LOFAR(-UK) station will be officially opened on July 1, 2010 by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Another LOFAR Related PhD Project

    Another LOFAR related PhD project - this one at Queen Mary London, in Space and Solar Plasma Physics check out the advert, reposted below.

    PhD project in Space and Solar Plasma Physics Queen Mary, University of London

    Applications are invited for a SEPnet funded (South-East Physics network, PhD Studentship within the Astronomy Unit, School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    The project is related to exciting, major unsolved problems of solar physics such as coronal heating and solar flare dynamics. Type III radio bursts are believed to come from solar flare electrons that travel upwards, away from the Sun, on open magnetic field lines. The proposed work aims to fill the gap in understanding how the upwards moving electrons are accelerated and produce the observed radio emission. This will be achieved through kinetic-scale modelling of the phenomenon and numerical simulation results will be compared with radio and other wavelength observations. The project benefits from access to large-scale parallel 1000 core processor cluster via UKMHD consortium, while the radio data will be available via participation of QMUL in LOFAR-UK and SEPnet Astro consortia ( The LOw Frequency ARray, LOFAR (, is a next-generation software-driven telescope currently under construction in the Netherlands and UK.

    Dr David Tsiklauri, Senior Lecturer at Astronomy Unit, QMUL will be the PhD project supervisor, while Dr Aris Karastergiou, Astrophysics, Oxford University, will act in a co-supervisory capacity.

    Applicants should have a good Honours degree in Physics or Applied Mathematics (at least 2:1 or equivalent) or a lower second class plus a Master’s (MPhys) qualification. Programming experience in any high level language is highly desirable.

    Candidates will receive full fees and tax free stipend of circa £13,000 per annum for three years.

    Candidates should send their CV and names (with contact details) of two referees by Email to: D.Tsiklauri@

    The applications should be submitted as soon as possible, but no later than 15 January 2010.

    Starting date will be soon after the deadline and is negotiable.

    For further information, please visit URL links below:

    Dr David Tsiklauri’s webpage http://www.maths. ~tsiklauri/

    Astronomy Unit http://www.maths. Astronomy/

    Queen Mary University of London http://www.qmul.

    Funding Notes:

    In addition to UK and EU students, non-UK or non-EU ones (worldwide) are also eligible to receive tuition fee waiver and a full stipend

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Second Delivery of LOFAR Parts Arrives - now pictures!

    Updates with pictures: The second delivery of LOFAR parts arrived today at Chilbolton - even a day ahead of schedule! Now we can try to build an LBA. Stay tuned on that!

    The lorry in place for unloading.

    Unloading in the shade of the 25m antenna.

    Boxes of electronics and cables in their temporary home in the Chilbolton workshop.

    LOFAR Related PhD Project

    Courtesy of the RAS Job List - a PhD project related to LOFAR.

    Large-scale structure from the next generation of radio surveys.

    University of Sussex Astronomy Centre
    Supervisor: Dr. Ilian Iliev (Sussex)
    Co-supervisors: Prof. Steven Rawlings (Oxford) and Prof. Robert Nichol(Portsmouth)

    Funding is available for 3 years for suitably qualified candidates, at a level of 12,940 GBP/year. Fees are fully covered for UK/EU students (and in some cases may be covered for international students) and travel funding is also available.

    This PhD project will address a host of important questions related to the formation and evolution of the large-scale cosmic structures. The main topics are studying the nature of the Dark Energy component which dominates today's universe through precise measurements of the Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations and evaluating the effects of possible primordial non-Gaussianity of the initial perturbations on the large-scale structures. Both objectives will be achieved through performing and studying N-body structure formation simulations which will be among the largest ever performed, with tens to hundreds of billions of particles. These results will then be compared to data from large galaxy surveys, in particular the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the HETDEX survey and radio surveys with LOFAR. More specifically, we will simulate the LOFAR million-source survey and SDSS-3, producing mock catalogues of both galaxies and radio sources. We will use the halo model and semi-analytical galaxy formation modelling to implement galaxies and sub-structure and their evolution. The high dynamic range of these simulations will improve the statistics and allow us to connect most radio sources to individual galaxies. It will also yield a better treatment of the nonlinear source clustering and scale-dependent bias. The key objectives are to produce detailed source catalogues and radio maps to be used for understanding the survey results and design improvements for future instruments like the Square Kilometer Array. This will allow us to extract much more precise values for the basic cosmological parameters from the data and gain better understanding of the nature of Dark Energy, one of the largest mysteries in present-day science.

    For more information/to apply for this project, please contact Dr. Ilian Iliev (email: I.T.Iliev [AT]

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    More parts on the way to Chilbolton

    We just got the word that the second load of LOFAR parts (lots of cables and electronics - everything else needed to set up the LBAs) are now on their way to Chilbolton. Expected arrival in 2 days.

    Soon the workshop at Chilbolton will be very full of boxes! We were impressed on Thursday to see Owain's detailed plan for how it can all fit in until it's installed in the LOFAR field.

    Visit to Chilbolton, Sunday Nov 15

    Last Sunday I dragged the family up to Chilbolton to see the first delivered parts, the marked out station location and test pits, all dug in preparation for construction early in the new year. After five years of UK effort, and a decade of personal LOFAR involvement (so far!) it was great to see the project getting to this stage. Owain Davies kindly opened up the site for us in the middle of his weekend.

    On the left you can see a small Fender oblivious to the high technology which are the LBA ground planes in the background...

    Owain also drove us around the station site in the STFC landrover, and pointed out to us how the test pits reveal the striking change from soil to chalk only 20 cm below the surface.

    There are ideas about shaping this chalk layer to aid with drain-off of water from the site.

    Anyway, although there are still major decisions to be taken about things like the mode and route of our data links to The Netherlands, this first step in the construction of the Chilbolton station is a very significant one for LOFAR-UK.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    First LOFAR Parts Arrive in Chilbolton

    The first parts for the LOFAR array arrived safely in Chilbolton yesterday morning after a long trip over from Dwingloo.

    Yesterday morning a group of LOFAR scientists from Portsmouth (Prof. Bob Nichol, Dr. Alejo Martinez-Sansigre, PhD student Hana Schumacher and myself) drove up to Chilbolton to see the arrival of the first parts with Owain Davies and Derek McKay, and get a tour around the site.

    This first pictures shows the delivery men from the Netherlands unloading the ground planes (the part of the equipment which actually collects the radio waves for the longest frequency part of the array). This is standard metal mesh used to reinforce concrete in the Netherlands. Each weighs about 30kgs - here they are unloading half of the 96 in total which will be laid out in Chilbolton.

    You can see in the background that the container (grey box) has already been unloaded, while in the foreground the ground sheets (rolled up black plastic - used to stop weeds growing up through the wire mesh) are still on the transport.

    It was a rainy morning in Chilbolton, but the clouds cleared and a rainbow came out as we watched the action.

    Prof. Bob Nichol and Dr. Alejo Martinez-Sansigre check we have the right container, and wonder how to go about breaking the customs seal to have a look inside.

    More parts, including the electrical components for the LBAs (low band arrays) are expected next week, after which test construction of the LBA can begin. For now these parts and container will have a temporary home in the carpark next to the 25m antenna at Chilbolton while site preparation is completed at the final LOFAR-Chilbolton location on a more remote part of the site.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    LOFAR IYA2009 Stamp

    In the Netherlands a stamp has been issued showing the location of LOFAR stations across Europe as part of the celebrations for IYA2009. You can see the Chilbolton station just makes it into the picture on the extreme left illustrating how LOFAR-UK adds to the resolution of LOFAR (ie. how sharp the images it will eventually be able to make) by creating some of the longest baselines. The addition of these outer international stations to the Dutch core make a radio telescope which is effectively as large as northern Europe! (Stations in France and Sweden are not on the stamp, but make it into the outer frame if you buy a block of ten.)

    Chilbolton Container on its way!

    We have received word this morning from ASTRON that the Chilbolton container with the first parts for the LOFAR station at Chilbolton is now on it's way. Hoping for a safe journey for arrival tomorrow morning.

    Loading the container:

    Setting off:

    Look out for it if you're on the road between Dwingloo, NL and Chilbolton, UK in the next 24 hours or so!

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Second International LOFAR Station Completed

    Good news for LOFAR - the second international station has been completed (in Tautenberg, Germany).

    Read all about it in this article on the main LOFAR website.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Chilbolton LOFAR Status Report 26 October 2009

    As activities ramp up at Chilbolton in the coming months, Owain Davies will be issuing regular status reports to the astronomers involved in LOFAR-UK. The full report can be viewed by those astronomers in the restricted section of the LOFAR-UK Wiki. With Owain's help I will be posting an edited version of the report on the blog.

    Note that a LOFAR-UK glossary of terms used in these postings is planned.

    LOFAR Kit Delivery

    The first deliveries of the kit to build the LOFAR radio telescope at Chilbolton will take place in November. The two separate deliveries from the Netherlands will consist of the LOFAR container, LBA (low band antenna) ground planes and weed suppressant foils, and also the electronics and cables for the HBA/LBA (high band and low band antennas).

    A LOFAR Container:

    A low-band antenna (LBA):

    These first two deliveries will allow the LOFAR container to have its electronics installed and the LBA installed as soon as the site is ready.

    The LOFAR container will be dropped off in the car park of the Chilbolton Observatory along with the ground planes and foils. The electronic equipment and cables will be stored inside the main building.

    Site Preparation

    Chilbolton will soon be ready to select a contractor to do the site preparation for LOFAR. The works will consist of leveling the two areas for the low band and high band antennas, making a concrete foundation for the LOFAR container, digging trenches for the cables, and also routing electrical and other services to the site.

    Network Connection

    The details of the high speed internet connection to the Netherlands are still being worked out. One possible route goes via Southampton and then London, however if use of the computing and storage facilities at RAL is considered, then this may not be the most cost effective way to connect both the Netherlands and RAL to Chilbolton. So other routings are being considered.

    Current Projected Timeline

    Winter 2010
    • completion of low band antennas and LOFAR container installation

    Spring 2010
    • network connection to the Netherlands finished
    • completion of construction of high band antennas (good weather is required for this part of the installation)

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Arrival of LOFAR parts to Chilbolton is Scheduled

    Arrival of the first parts needed to begin construction of the LOFAR station at Chilbolton has been scheduled for the middle of next month. Stay tuned for pictures of their arrival.

    Welcome to the LOFAR-UK Blog

    Welcome to the blog for LOFAR-UK. Here you will find articles, news and updates about the LOFAR-UK project - the UK contribution to LOFAR.