Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Colliding galaxy cluster unravelled

The below is a press release put out today in support of the paper: First LOFAR observations at very low frequencies of cluster-scale non-thermal emission: the case of Abell 2256, van Weeren et al. A&A in press (arXiV:1205.4703)

Galaxy cluster Abell 2256 imaged at 60 MHz with LOFAR

An international team of astronomers has used the International LOFAR Telescope from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, to study the formation of the galaxy cluster Abell 2256. Abell 2256 is a cluster containing hundreds of galaxies at a distance of 800 million lightyears. ‘The structure we see in the radio images made with LOFAR provides us with information about the origin of this cluster, explains lead author dr. Reinout van Weeren (Leiden University and ASTRON). The study will be published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The research involved a large team of scientists from 26 different universities and research institutes.
LOFAR has made the first images of Abell 2256 in the frequency range of 20 to 60 MHz. What came as a surprise to scientists was that the cluster of galaxies was brighter and more complex than expected. Dr. van Weeren: ‘We think that galaxy clusters form by mergers and collisions of smaller clusters’. Abell 2256 is a prime example of a cluster that is currently undergoing a collision. The radio emission is produced by tiny elementary particles that move nearly at the speed of light. With LOFAR it is possible to study how these particles get accelerated to such speeds. ‘In particular, we will learn how this acceleration takes place in regions measuring more than 10 million light years across’, says Dr. Gianfranco Brunetti from IRA-INAF in Bologna, Italy, who together with Prof. Marcus Brüggen from the Jacobs University in Bremen, coordinates the LOFAR work on galaxy clusters.
LOFAR was built by a large international consortium led by the Netherlands and which includes Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Sweden. One of the main goals of LOFAR is to survey the entire northern sky at low radio frequencies, with a sensitivity and resolution about 100 times better than what has been previously done. Scientists believe that this survey will discover more than 100 million objects in the distant Universe. ‘Soon we will start our systematic surveys of the sky that will lead to great discoveries’, says Prof. Huub Röttgering from Leiden University and Principal Investigator of the 'LOFAR Survey Key Project'.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Reinout van Weeren, astronomer, Leiden University and ASTRON. Tel.: +31 71 527 5864. E-mail:
Prof. Huub Röttgering, astronomer, Leiden University. Tel.: +31 6 41522603. E-mail:
Femke Boekhorst, PR & Communication, ASTRON. Tel.: +31 521 595 204. E-mail:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Over 800 People Visit LOFAR Telescope in the Netherlands

News item copied from ASTRON website: (please visit there for more pictures).

Visitors getting a tour of one the many LOFAR LBAs in The Netherlands.

Over 800 people visited the LOFAR telescope last Saturday during the open day at ASTRON. The day was organized in the context of the socalled EU Kijkdagen, an initiative of the Northern Netherlands Provinces (SNN). On these viewing days organizations in the Netherlands that received funding from the European Union (EU) can open their doors to the public.
ASTRON invited visitors to come and see LOFAR, the largest radio telescope in the world. Here they could feel like astronomer or engineer and perform an observation with the telescope, get a tour at the telescope in the field, learn about an even larger telescope than LOFAR and lie back and relax during a virtual tour through the universe.
For ASTRON, this day was also important with respect to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA). This is a global project in which twenty countries worldwide cooperate to build an even larger and more sensitive radio telescope than LOFAR. The SKA will be built in South Africa or Australia. Internationally, ASTRON is one of the major players in this project. In the Netherlands, ASTRON has set up the SKA Northern Netherlands project (SKA-NN) to, in cooperation with industry, strengthen its position in the race to build the SKA.
The activities on the open day were suitable for young and old. Many children participated in the fun lab where they could solder together a disco broche or a walking light.
There was also a workshop where children made their own pulsars (the remnants of exploding stars). The most beautiful creations were made here!
Children and adults could sit back on soft cushions in the mobile planetarium of the University of Groningen and enjoy a journey through the universe. Already after two hours the planetarium was completely booked for the whole day.

Astronomers and engineers gave tours at the ASTRON and LOFAR talked about astronomical research with this telescope LOFAR why is important for the Square Kilometer Array.
There was a good and friendly atmosphere during the day; visitors were very interested in the activities at ASTRON and waited patiently if there is a waiting line, for example at the solar telescope, when the sun sometimes took a while to come out from behind the clouds. The tour guides in the field also got a few showers but happily, this did not spoil the fun. Many thanks for all the hard work of the volunteers!

You can find more information about these Kijkdagen on:

Good News for Irish LOFAR

Some good news for iLOFAR - the planned Irish contribution to LOFAR appeared in the today.

Click here to download the i-LOFAR brochure.

Test of Irish times article:

Desmond to invest in radio telescope for Birr 

DERMOT DESMOND has pledged financial backing for plans to build a powerful new telescope that will allow scientists to eavesdrop on objects in space.

Mr Desmond met a group of Irish scientists last Friday to discuss the building of a state-of-the-art radio telescope at Birr Castle, Co Offaly. He agreed to provide some funding for the development of the project.

The telescope, costing €1.2 million, would be the biggest investment in Irish astronomical equipment since the building of the Great Leviathan Telescope by William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse, at Birr in the 1840s. It ranked as the largest telescope in the world for more than 70 years.

“We still have a ways to go to get to €1.2 million to purchase and install the station, but is a step in the right direction,” said Prof Peter Gallagher of Trinity College Dublin, who is a member of the consortium behind the plans.

The telescope would consist of a number of antennae to detect low frequency radio waves such as those emitted by ancient astronomical objects formed shortly after the Big Bang. Up to 50 radio telescopes of this type already exist – in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, and the UK.

These facilities have been linked together in a network called the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), which join to form an even more powerful telescope. Increasing the overall size of the network by building a station in Ireland would enable LOFAR to image distant objects in much finer detail.

The Irish station would be called I-LOFAR, and would be connected to the central processing centre in the Netherlands using a high speed fibre optic network. This connection would be 100 times faster than broadband speeds in Ireland, said Prof Gallagher.

“We have an opportunity to make an investment of €1.2 million to be part of a €150 million European project,” he said. “With I-LOFAR we would have something tangible here in Ireland – not in Chile, or Australia – that the public would be able to come to see.”

Birr Castle was an ideal location for a new station, he said. Ireland is extremely radio-quiet compared with other European countries. In rural areas such as Birr, the very faint radio signals coming from objects from the early universe would be detectable, as there is very little interference here.

The estimated cost of the project for the first five years is €3 million. This would include the expansion of the Science Centre in Birr. Fáilte Ireland has expressed support for the plan, which could increase the appeal of Birr Castle and the area for tourists.

“There is the potential for at least one Nobel Prize in this project,” Prof Gallagher said.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Current Map of International LOFAR Telescope

Using the LOFAR Status Map as a basis, I just made this up-to-date map of the locations of LOFAR stations across Europe.

LOFAR stations across Europe. May 2012. Credit: Google Maps, ASTRON. 

Nice Animations about Building LOFAR

Some nice animations about how LOFAR works and building LOFAR in the below movie (in Dutch). The English caption for the movie reads
A short animation consisting of all animations we have made for the 'Building LOFAR' documentary. The animations show how this new and innovative telescope works and waht is is capable off. The voice-over is Dutch in this case. English is also available and will be uploaded seperately as soon as possible. For more info and detals please visit