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LOFAR Radio Telescope Joins European Research Infrastructure Consortium

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29 January 2024

The Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) is the world’s largest radio telescope for the reception of short and ultrashort radio waves. LOFAR was previously organized as a Dutch foundation and is now being transformed into an international legal form: a consortium for a European research infrastructure.

The LOFAR superterp – the centrepiece of the huge, ultra-modern radio telescope that is distributed across Europe – is located in Exloo in the Netherlands. Copyright: NWO-I/ASTRON

The European Commission decided to set up LOFAR as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) due to the Europe-wide significance of the radio telescope. LOFAR ERIC was officially established at the first meeting of the LOFAR ERIC Council on 22 January 2024.

The LOFAR radio telescope went into operation ten years ago. Today, it is a Europe-wide project with 52 antenna stations in eight European countries. The joint project fundamentally advanced low-frequency radio astronomy and led to a wealth of scientific publications.

Radioteleskop LOFAR wird europäische Forschungseinrichtung
Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Lippert, Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre at Forschungszentrum Jülich. Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Sascha Kreklau

The Jülich Supercomputing Centre has been involved in LOFAR in a variety of ways since 2009. It not only houses and operates the German part of the extensive LOFAR archive, which is the largest radio astronomy archive in Germany, but is also co-operator of the station in front of the Daubenrath entrance southeast of the campus and manages central network activities within the German LOFAR consortium.

Federal Republic of Germany is a founding member

Six EU states applied to the European Commission to set up LOFAR ERIC and are therefore its founding members: Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. The new research organization also collaborates with institutes in France, Latvia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Its headquarters are in Dwingeloo at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (NWO-I/ASTRON), where the LOFAR radio telescope was originally constructed.

LOFAR ERIC will significantly modernize the radio telescope’s distributed infrastructure and serve the astronomy community with a cutting-edge suite of observing and data processing capabilities. The telescope already offers a vast field of view on sky, unprecedented sensitivity and image resolution, and novel capabilities to observe in multiple directions all at once.

Radioteleskop LOFAR wird europäische Forschungseinrichtung
LOFAR’s 52 antenna stations are distributed across eight European countries. The telescope consists of 24 core stations in the region of Exloo in the Netherlands, 14 additional stations in the Netherlands, and 14 international stations. Copyright: NWO-I/ASTRON

Insights into the early phase of the universe and space weather

The new LOFAR facility will enable scientists to pursue large-scale innovative research projects. This includes research into the early phase of the universe, the formation and evolution of galaxies, the physics of pulsars, and transient radio phenomena. Other research topics include the nature of ultra-high energy cosmic particles, the conditions in interstellar space, and the structure of cosmic magnetic fields. In addition, the radio telescope provides unique scientific insights into various topics with societal relevance, such as lightning, ionospheric disturbances, and space weather.

As a research organization with a long-term perspective, LOFAR ERIC provides the European and global community with reliable access to numerous scientific research services. It makes its extensive scientific data available through its user-friendly, publicly accessible archive.

Ten institutions from Germany involved

The German universities and research institutes participating in LOFAR ERIC are: the universities of Bielefeld, Bochum, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Hamburg, and Würzburg as well as the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, and the Thuringian State Observatory Tautenburg, which will represent LOFAR ERIC for Germany in the future.

Jülich’s LOFAR station DE605 consists of two antenna fields that measure high and low frequencies. The container between them houses the electronics needed to process the signals from the individual antennae. Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach
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