Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stockpiling HBAs

At Chilbolton they are building up their stores of HBA tiles. During this time, the ground crews are preparing the surface ready for the tile deployment. When they are done, they want to ensure that there is a good stock of tiles ready to go.

Using an all-terrain forklift, the pallets are removed from the lorries.

In addition to the tiles themselves, there are stacks of "lids" which will go on top of each tile after it is unfolded.

The slowly building stock of HBA tiles.

The Beast is back!

The 18-tonne tracked digger - "The Beast" - is back on site in Chilbolton (along with its expert driver, John Murray). This heavy piece of machinery will be used for some soil works. However its primary purpose will be as an all-terrain lifting machine. It will lift HBA tiles during their preparation phase and will then move them out onto the field for deployment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First HBA tiles arrive in Chilbolton

The first load of HBA tiles arrived promptly this morning in Chilbolton. This comprised a dual-payload lorry with 4 HBA tiles and component lids.

Welkom! (Dutch for "Welcome!")

The first delivery!

Ready for HBA Installation

Another perfect dawn in Chilbolton.

The sun bursts over the horizon and a light mist caresses the LOFAR field at Chilbolton Observatory. HBA Installation starts today!

Keeping the owls company

It is not just the owls who are up late, staff at Chilbolton are working all hours too as the HBA installation started this morning. This update was sent to me at 3am this morning.

A confirmation phone call from the installation company (Autonational) has confirmed that their engineers are in the area and will be on site at the crack of dawn. Also, the first delivery is now due earlier than expected. Then, to make matters worse, it seems that some of the work that should have been completed by Friday remains undone.

Another load of equipment is taken out to the LOFAR construction compound ready for the morning.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dish by Night

At this time of year, the nights are very short. Even then, there is always a hint of midnight blue to the north as the sun lurks under the horizon. This photograph was taken in this deep twilight. The pale glow against the side of the dish is from the lights on the control building where work continues in preparation for the HBA deployment which starts on Monday.

HBA preparations

Work is gearing up now for the next critical phase of the LOFAR-UK installation. Starting on Monday, the High-Band Array (HBA) will be installed. Unlike the light LBA aerials, the antennas for this part of the system are large, unwieldy and heavy requiring experts driving machines not volunteer researchers and students to install! Furthermore, the ground around the field is not a flat warehouse floor, making driving difficult. To accomplish the lifting work a variety of techniques and machines will be used.

An all-terrain forklift is unloaded from its delivery transporter ready to start work first thing Monday morning.

Hand over

On 23rd June, responsibility of the Chilbolton site was formerly handed over from Kier-Moss (the primary contractors) back to STFC. Although Kier-Moss still have some post-HBA work to do, this ends the period where they have the primary responsibility for the construction works on the site. Thanks go to Kier-Moss, their staff and all their sub-contractors for the work that they have put into the LOFAR-UK project!

On the left, Bale Granville and Stuart Fifield from Kier-Moss and on the right Adrian Shepherd and Adrian Lewis from STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Little Owls

There is a lot of wildlife at Chilbolton Observatory. Apart from the unwelcome rabbits, there are some delightful visitors who have made their homes amongst the radars, lidars, aerials and other instrumentation. However, the favourite here must definitely be the family of little owls (Athene noctua). They have nested in an owl box on one of the buildings. Out of a clutch of four eggs, one chick has survived (so far). However, life has been tough for the youngster, as the other day it fell off the box platform and had to be put back in by hand.

"I am not a morning person"... Baby little owl peeks out from the nesting box.

"Guard Duty"... One of the parent little owls glares down the photographer from the back fence of the Observatory compound.

Solstice parhelion

On the evening of the summer solstice, Chilbolton Observatory was treated with the lovely spectacle of a parhelion. Parhelia (also known as "mock suns" or "sun dogs") are patches of light that appear 22 degrees to either side of the sun. The effect is caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. The parhelion can be seen at the same altitude as the sun, near the right-hand edge of the image. The photograph, which sadly does not do the sight justice, was taken at 20:35 local time looking over the Observatory Test Range.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

LOFAR-UK Public Enemy Number 1

Because it was "formally" requested, we have been sent a photograph of an observatory rabbit.

This elusive creature was photographed in the early morning near its burrow in the main observatory compound. Although cute and fluffy, these animals will chew through any and everything, making no distinction between twigs and LOFAR LBA guy wires as is completely nautral for rbbits. In fact, the very first test LBA, which was located in the 4.5m dish compound, was repeatedly attacked. When the guy wire is bitten through, the antenna will quickly fall over in the breeze or simply under the tension of the elastic on the opposite side. The rabbits make no distinction between elastic and nylon and will chew through whatever than can get their teeth into.

It is said that every international LOFAR site has its own special wildlife pest... at Chilbolton it's the rabbits.

We love our Chilbolton rabbits, we just don't want them to destroy the antennas - hence the fence we previously talked about.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fencing progress

While preparation work for the HBA installation increases pace, the sub-contractors continue to put in the perimeter fence. This is now starting to take shape and much of the field edge has now reached the stage shown in this photograph.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chilbolton crop circles

Completely unrelated to the real science we're doing at Chilbolton, but fun nonetheless...

I just found in doing some research on the Chilbolton site (most famous for being an airfield in the past, and of course for our LOFAR station in the future..) that in 2001 the site was famous nationally for some elaborate crop circles. In the picture below you can see crop 'circles' from August 2001. The lower pattern is a face, the upper one is a replica of the 'SETI' signal sent by the giant Arecibo radio dish towards the globular cluster M13 in 1974 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arecibo_message for more information on this act of exploration and optimism). Now if these crop circles had appeared AFTER we completed the station, the press would have been *really* interested...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More trenches!

Just when we thought we'd seen the last of the trenches, more are starting to appear! However, these trenches are not for cables. Instead, this is part of the fence that will surround the two LOFAR fields. Because of the requirements, these fences cannot contain large lengths of metal; so the common wire fencing is not an option. Instead, they are constructed of timber and synthetic netting. The netting itself is buried into the ground to attempt to control the rabbits (evidence of whom has already been spotted on the LBA field).

Yet another trench!

Timber fence posts are dropped in along the trench ready for securing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Applying the labels

Once all the aerials are in place, they need to be labelled. The labels applied have a barcode, allowing field engineers to easily scan each aerial electronically. The aerial barcode identity is associated in a maintenance database with those of the LNA (low noise amplifier) and cables. From the control centre in the Netherlands, any signal can be traced back to identify the components used.

In this picture, Jacinta Delhaize applies another LBA label. Jacinta is a visiting student from University of Western Australia, currently based at Oxford University.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Panorama of Completed LBA Field

From Chilbolton today - a panoramic shot of the completed LBA field.


I attended the LOFAR inauguration on Saturday. It was excellent - a spectacular show, slightly kitschy but with plenty of wine and, of course, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to formally open the telescope. My job at the ceremony was to sign the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on behalf of the UK as a founding member. It was quite formal !

Signing of the founding MoU
From left to right: Rene Vermeulen and Mike Garret [representing ASTRON], Ralph-Juergen Dettmar [Germany], Garrelt Mellema [Sweden], Michel Tagger [France], myself, and Ralph Wijers [Dutch Universities]

Queen Beatrix Opening LOFAR

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands opened LOFAR this weekend in a ceremony near the LOFAR core.

Read the full press release from ASTRON at this link.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Royal Opening for the LOFAR Core

As described in this press release from ASTRON, the LOFAR core was opened today in the Netherland by their Queen - Queen Beatrix.

The world’s largest radio telescope was officially launched at a special ceremony in the Netherlands attended by astronomers from the UK and many other countries.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands formally opened LOFAR, which stands for Low Frequency Array, on Saturday 12 June. Representatives from consortia in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom then officially signed the memorandum that kicks off their scientific collaboration in LOFAR. The all-electronic ‘next generation’ telescope developed by ASTRON can now offer to astronomers the joint use of a network of antennae that spreads from its core region in the northeast of the Netherlands to distances of thousands of kilometers across Europe. It includes 96 antennae installed last week (7-11 June) at the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire].

Dr. RenĂ© Vermeulen, Director of the Radio Observatory at ASTRON, is delighted about the international collaboration. He says: “With its European dimension LOFAR will serve a large international community of astronomers to study the Universe at the lowest frequencies accessible from the Earth in astounding detail.”

LOFAR uses sophisticated computing and high speed internet to combine all the signals to survey the sky in great detail. The giant telescope will enable scientists to study how distant galaxies take shape, to find out when the early Universe was first lit up, to probe the properties of energetic cosmic particles, to map magnetised structures all across the sky, and to monitor the sun’s activity as well as a wide range of variable and explosive celestial objects. It is a pathfinder for the development of a global telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).

Professor Rob Fender, of the University of Southampton, is the project leader of LOFAR-UK and represented the UK consortium to sign an International Memorandum of Understanding at the inauguration ceremony.

Rob says: “When completed, LOFAR will consist of thousands of antennae spread across stations throughout Europe, of which Chilbolton is one. Stations are already built or under construction in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Sweden. Signals from the antennae are brought together by a supercomputer in the Netherlands and give a very wide view of the sky.

“At Southampton, we will be using LOFAR for research into very explosive and rapid phenomena such as black holes, neutron stars and pulsars."

Here is the collage of images of Chilbolton used to illustrate the UK contribution to LOFAR in the opening ceremony. That's LOFAR station UK608 in official terms!

Friday, June 11, 2010

All LBAs Installed!

All aerials of the LOFAR-UK Chilbolton Station have been installed.

Here is the final installation map. Today's progress is marked in purple.

-- 2 aerials were completed on Wednesday 26th May (red)
-- 1 aerial was completed on Thursday 3rd June (orange)
-- 22 aerials were completed on Monday 7th June (yellow)
-- 30 aerials were completed on Tuesday 8th June (green)
-- 34 aerials were completed on Wednesday 9th June (blue)
-- 4 aerials were completed on Thursday 10 June (indigo)
-- 3 aerials were completed on Friday 11th June (purple)

Well done to everyone involved.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More TV coverage

The BBC South Today report from Chilbolton is now available on YouTube (appeared on today's BBC South Today).

Day 4 of LBA Installation - progress report

Here's the updated progress map of the LBA field at Chilbolton. Today's progress is marked in indigo.

-- 3 aerials were completed prior to this week (red + orange)
-- 22 aerials were completed on Monday 7th (yellow)
-- 30 aerials were completed on Tuesday 8th (green)
-- 34 aerials were completed on Wednesday 9th (blue)
-- 4 aerials were completed on Thursday 10th (indigo)

As you may notice, aerials #38, #44 and #46 have not yet been completed. This is because the concrete on these particular anchor points still needs to cure. This will be left overnight. Harry Smith, Gordon Brown and Derek McKay-Bukowski intend to finish these tomorrow. The volunteer student and researcher crews are all finished. Well done everyone!

More photos from the installation are now appearing in our Public Gallery as everyone manages to find the time to get on their computers!

A little bit of media attention.

More pictures from behind the scenes of media day.

Here Hana Schumacher adjusts the positioning of an LNA (Low Noise Amplifier) unit under intense media attention.

You know the drill...

The original plan was that there would be four drills operating at the LBA field, to put in the pilot holes for the anchor pegs. This is a tricky job, and a bit dangerous as the drills can jam and twist in the rocky soil. However, by the time the work was due to commence, there was only a couple of people trained up on the task and then there was only a single drill available. So Harry Smith started the task of drilling the anchor pegs and continued alone at the task until nearly the end, when we could ease the pressure on other areas and give him some back up.

So, thanks Harry! We know it was a lot of work and that you'll be aching for the next few weeks, but we really appreciate it!

International incident?

Is this really the LOFAR field? It looks like we have aid relief workers and UN peacekeeping troops! Well, yes, indeed this is the LBA field, along with a couple of the first aid crew (our wonderful site manager from Kier, and volunteer Elizabeth Nichol) and a team leader (Sascha Schediwy) with a sense of humour.

Fender et al.

As he has already posted about, Rob Fender (right), head of the LOFAR-UK project has been spending some time in Chilbolton this week. Rob even pitched in and helped get some aerials built. Thanks Rob! We look forward to hearing about your visit with Queen B in the Netherlands.

Local Coverage

We had some nice local coverage of the LBA build yesterday. I particularly like the Andover Sound (106.4 FM in Hampshire) as it features one of the (very small number of) antennas I helped to build yesterday: link.

You can now watch the ITV Meridian report which went out yesterday on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

University of Portsmouth Video

The media crew from the University of Portsmouth visited the LBA build on Monday and made the below video.

Media Day at Chilbolton

Today was media day at our Chilbolton LOFAR day, and I'm still catching up! The press team did a wonderful job generating interest and we had visits today from local TV (ITV Meridian, BBC South), local radio (BBC Radio Solent and Radio Andover) as well as Sky at Night Magazine. As Rob mentioned in his post from today, BBC Horizon have also been filming this week, and Chris Lintott from Sky at Night is expected tomorrow to help with the final antennas.

Today I got to go along too and help build some antennas and be generally around for the press (was even interviewed on BBC Radio Solent). I wish I could spend more time up there, but at least since I can't do that I have more time to post things here!

Some pictures of media stuff happening:

BBC Radio Solent Van parked near the LBA installation.

Bob Nichol and me about to be interviewed live by the BBC Radio Solent reporter.

Portsmouth PhD student Hana Schumacher being interviewed for ITV Meridian.

Finally here's a collection of links to various coverage (in no particular order, and of varying levels of correctness!):

ITV Meridian (TV) link

ITN News (article): link

Sky and Telescope (video): link

Daily Mail (article): link

BBC Online News (article): link

Will Gater (blog): link

The Sun (article): link

The Telegraph (article): link

Day 3 of LBA build - progress report

Here is the updated completion map for the LOFAR LBA antenna installation.

Today's progress is marked in blue.

-- 3 aerials were completed prior to this week (red + orange)
-- 22 aerials were completed on Monday 7th (yellow)
-- 30 aerials were completed on Tuesday 8th (green)
-- 34 aerials were completed on Wednesday 9th (blue)

Thanks go to everyone who participated. The crew continues tomorrow morning for the final 7 antennas as well as a lot of labelling and consolidating!

June 9

Up to the site again today, my last visit during LBA build week. The progress is amazing and barring some catastrophe or a dose of traditional british weather the construction should be easily wrapped up by tomorrow. Still lots more to do after that, of course, but its a major milestone. Lots of press at the site again today too !

Here's another selection of photos

1. Look at that for progress! More than 80 of the 96 done by the time I left

2. Thankfully bored first aider Elizabeth Nichol guarding the RFI cabinet for us.

Elizabeth is sitting there all week in case we need some first aid - another piece of sterling volunteer work - thanks !

The cabinet is where all the cables from the 96 LBAs and 96 HBA tiles all meet, the signal is processed and then starts on its journey to the BlueGene supercomputer in Groningen in The Netherlands (don't forget, this coming Saturday - June 12 - is the official inauguration of LOFAR by the Dutch Queen, Beatrix)

3. Wife and Husband (Judith Croston and Martin Hardcastle) in a race leading side-by-side LBA construction (they're the two in the blue hats, as team leaders).

Also note Harry Smith marching off to drill something else..

... and the 'old style' technology (i.e. the dish) in the background.

4. Sadie Jones (Southampton PhD student) gets interviewed by ITV Meridian.

The past few days have seen ITV, BBC (both Sky at Night and Horizon) as well as a whole host of radio shows, on the site and in other forms of contact (quite a few radio interviews).

Also lots of coverage in the national press, e.g.




- Well done the outreach team for generating such interest.

That's it from me for this week, I'm up at 5am tomorrow to fly to The Netherlands to attend the inauguration and sign the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) as representative of the UK. Should be fun.. now what to say to Queen B?

One of the LBA build teams on Tuesday

Here's a really great photograph of one of the LBA build teams on Tuesday. It sort of summarises the confidence, pride and achievement that all the teams have. Well done everyone. You should be justly proud of the work done so far.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 2 of LBA build - progress report

Below is the updated completion map for the LOFAR LBA antenna installation.
Today's progress is marked in green.

-- 3 aerials were completed prior to this week (red + orange)
-- 22 aerials were completed on Monday 7th (yellow)
-- 30 aerials were completed on Tuesday 8th (green)

Thanks go to everyone who participated. Construction continues tomorrow morning!

Hard Hat Colours

You might be wondering why there are so many different coloured hard hats in the pictures of the LBA build. I know I was when I saw the first pictures on Monday. Turns out the colours are used to indicate the role of the person wearing the hat. And here's the key:

Light Blue = Team leader (or 'Lieutenant')

Dark Blue = Team member (Oxford)

Red = Team member (Soton/Ports)

Yellow stripe (on any colour) = Coordinator / Quality Assurance

White = Media or Visitor

White with green/blue cross = First Aid

We won't be able to keep up with labelling all the different people in the pictures this week, but hopefully this key will give you some idea of who you're seeing.

More pictures from LBA Build

Yesterday the University of Portsmouth Media Crew visited Chilbolton to take some pictures and video of the LBA installation. You can view the pictures which are mostly (but not exclusively) following the LBA installation team lead by Prof. Bob Nichol (AKA LBA Lieutenant Bob Nichol) at this website. The video should appear on the University of Portsmouth website tomorrow.

June 8

Today I visited the site for ~4 hr, took lots of photos, spoke to Sky at Night and even helped to build a couple or three LBAs. Very exciting to see both the progress and the fantastic team spirit - thanks to all who are helping ! Here's some photos...

1. Some of the troops at least know how to respond in the presence of an officer ;-)

2. A team in action - fixing the guys to the corner stakes so the post, at the top of which is the amplifier, is secure and correctly oriented. Amazing that these relatively simple bits of wire can pick up signals from 10 billion years ago..

3. Lunch for the army ! well earned.

4. Progress ! great work - thanks all :-)

5. The site from the lunch camp.. time to leave,
back tomorrow

Pictures from Day 1 of the LBA Build

Some pictures from day one of the LBA build in Chilbolton.

Lots of people getting to work.

The LBA field at the end of the day with 25 antennas in place.

Well done to everyone involved at Chilbolton and good luck for today's activities. Let's hope it doesn't rain too much today.

More photos of the fun will appear throughout the week at our Public Gallery

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 1 of LBA Build Week

Today was day 1 of the LOFAR LBA build. 22 antennas were completed. Here is the updated progress map - today's completed antennas are coloured in yellow.

More updates to follow.

More photos of the fun will appear at our Public Gallery


Update from this morning at Chilbolton:

Another picture-perfect sunrise at Chilbolton Observatory. But what is special about to today is that within a few hours the installation of the LOFAR Low-Band Array shall begin!

Stay tuned for more updates all week!