Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Telescope 'to find' space origin

Derek McKay checks some of the 96 radio antennae installed for a new telescope at the Chilbolton Observatory. Chris Ison/PA Wire
Image caption Ninety-six radio antennae have been installed at the Chilbolton Observatory

A major UK-built radio telescope has been launched in Hampshire to help astronomers detect when the first stars in the universe were formed.

The European Low Frequency Array (Lofar) telescope involves 96 radio antennae erected in a field at the Chilbolton Observatory near Andover.

The telescope, which works on a low FM frequency, will collect data to help astronomers with their research.

A further 5,000 antennae are set to be positioned across Europe.

The main project is based in the Netherlands.

Some antennae have already been installed their and in Germany, and more are planned in France, Sweden and Poland.

'Super-computer'

The project, which has included contributions from scientists at universities in Portsmouth, Southampton and Oxford, will combine the signals received from the antennae to make images of the sky, using a "super-computer" based in the Netherlands.

Professor Bob Nichol, of the University of Portsmouth's Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: "The Lofar telescope will produce an enormous volume of data which will enable a significant amount of science, from monitoring the sun's activity or 'space weather' to potentially searching for alien intelligence.

"Maybe we can answer the age-old question 'Are we alone?'."

Professor Rob Fender, of the University of Southampton and principal investigator of the Lofar-UK project, said: "Lofar is immensely complex because of the huge amounts of radio data that these antennae produce."

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