12 Jun 2014

ASTRON and POLFAR construct LOFAR antenna stations

ASTRON and the Polish LOFAR consortium POLFAR have signed a contract for the construction of three new antenna stations for the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) in the north, west and south of Poland.

Signing of the contract took place at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn in Poland in the presence of representatives of ASTRON, the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education and local governments, and representatives of the Polish astronomical and space sciences communities.

At the end of 2013, POLFAR received a grant from the Polish Minister of Science and Higher Education for the construction and equipment of three international LOFAR stations as part of their national research infrastructure investment.

The new LOFAR stations will be located in Łazy (in southern Poland, operated by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow), Bałdy (in northern Poland, operated by the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn), and Borówiec (in western Poland, operated by the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences). The formal agreement marks the start of the preparations for the roll-out of these new stations.

LOFAR, designed and built by ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, is a transformational radio telescope that is uniquely powerful and versatile for studies at the lowest frequencies that can be observed from Earth.

With LOFAR, astronomers can look back billions of years to a time before the first stars and galaxies were formed (the so-called ‘Dark Ages’), they can survey vast areas of the low-frequency radio sky, and they can be constantly on the lookout for some of the most energetic and burst-like events in the universe. Astronomical interests in Poland range from neutral hydrogen distribution in the distant early universe, to the timing of pulsars, and to studies of magnetic fields in various intergalactic, interstellar, planetary, and solar environments.

The International LOFAR Telescope has 38 stations in the Netherlands, six in Germany, and one each in France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Connecting the three new ‘POLFAR’ stations will add valuable extra sensitivity to the array. And in particular, the Polish stations give ‘baselines’ of up to 1550 km in the array, making the ILT a much more capable instrument for high resolution imaging of detailed structures. The positions of the new stations also literally provide new angles on ionospheric tomography.

Director of the International LOFAR Telescope, Dr. Rene Vermeulen, is happy with the construction of the new antenna stations in Poland: ‘With this addition, the ILT network can make significantly sharper images of the sky.’

All components for the LOFAR stations, such as the manufacturing of thousands of antenna elements and electronics, are to be contracted out to industry. The construction of the three new stations will start immediately and is estimated to be completed before the end of 2015.

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