The UK's South East LOFAR radio astronomy station has been opened by Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
LOFAR reports that the telescope will 'listen' to the Universe at FM frequencies, helping astronomers detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed, to reveal more about how the Universe evolved. During the ceremony, guests were able to observe a pulsar in real time using the Chilbolton station. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first radio pulsars, so it was most appropriate for her to perform the opening.
Professor Rob Fender of the University of Southampton, Principal Investigator of the LOFAR UK project said "The most amazing thing is that these small dipole antennas can pick up faint radio signals from over 10 billion years ago, when the universe was a fraction of its current size, and that this signal can be mapped over the entire sky by the telescope without a single moving part."
LOFAR has five major research areas:
1. Surveying space beyond our galaxy to try to understand the history of star formation and black hole growth over cosmological time
2. Probing the extreme astrophysical environments that lead to transient bright bursts in the radio sky, such as from pulsars, the highly magnetised remains of dead stars
3. Understanding cosmic rays, the storm of high-energy particles (mostly protons and helium nuclei) that rain down on Earth
4. Studying the local space environment, to see how the wind of particles billowing away from the Sun interacts with the Earth.
5. Investigating cosmic magnetism - the origin of the large-scale fields that pervade the Universe.