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The Biggest Telescope on Earth

Motherboard travelled to the English countryside to check out the largest telescope in the world.
04 Februarie 2011, 12:00am

Motherboard travelled to the English countryside to check out the UK’s contribution to the massive LOFAR radio telescope: a clever EU-wide installation that uses low-tech antennas and high-end data processing to transform into a giant mega-telescope.

Using signals from the new station, LOFAR has delivered its first EU-UK radio ‘pictures.’ The images of the 3C196 quasar (a black hole in a distant galaxy) were taken last month by the giant network, which is now almost 1000 km wide – ten times as large as the original array in the Netherlands – making it the largest telescope in the world. LOFAR will also contribute to UK and European preparations for the planned global next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

“This is fantastic”, says Professor Rob Fender, who features in our piece. “Combining the LOFAR signals together is a very important milestone for this truly international facility. For the first time, the signals from LOFAR radio telescopes in the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have been successfully combined in the LOFAR BlueGene/P supercomputer. The connection between the Chilbolton telescope and the supercomputer requires an internet speed of 10 gigabits per second – over 1000 times faster than the typical home broadband speeds,” said Professor Fender. “Getting that connection working without a hitch was a great feat requiring close collaboration between STFC, industry, universities around the country, and our international partners.”

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