Sussex researchers help unveil new ‘ear on the universe’

Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire - home to the new LOFAR radio telescope antennae. Photos: Stephen Kill/STFC

University of Sussex physicists will be working with the first major radio telescope to be built in Britain for decades as part of an exciting new space project.

The LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) telescope will help answer questions such as "Are we alone?" and "how did black holes grow in our universe?"

The University of Sussex is a member of the LOFAR-UK consortium, and Sussex Astronomy Group researcher Dr Ilian  Iliev is on its Managing Committee as a Scientific Coordinator.  

Dr Iliev says: "LOFAR is a fantastic new instrument, which through its wide field of view and range at low radio frequencies opens whole new windows on the Universe and will lead to many exciting discoveries over the coming years."

The Sussex Astronomy group is involved in two of the six major science projects of LOFAR:

  • The Epoch of Reionisation Survey: understanding how the first stars and black holes made the universe hot;
  • The Galaxy Survey, looking at the history of star formation and black hole growth over cosmological time.

Both surveys will soon begin collecting data from the telescope. Other research areas include cosmic rays and cosmic magnetism, mapping the structure of solar winds and how it interacts with the Earth, and the transients and pulsars that cause bright bursts of light in the radio sky.

LOFAR-UK was officially unveiled by the renowned British astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell at a ceremony at the Science and Technologies Facilities Council's (STFC) Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire (Monday 20 September).

The telescope, which is part of the European LOFAR project 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.

LOFAR is a European project led by the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (ASTRON) which when complete, will see over 5,000 separate antennae grouped into 'stations' all over Europe, including the Chilbolton Observatory, to form the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

LOFAR's 96 antennae can pick up faint radio signals from more than 10 billion years ago, when the universe was a fraction of its current size.

During the ceremony, guests were able to observe a pulsar (neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation) 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.

Notes to Editors


LOFAR UK is funded through a collaboration of 22 UK universities with the South East Physics Network (SEPnet) consortium, which includes the University of Sussex, and the UK STFC, which includes RAL Space at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and STFC's Chilbolton Observatory. Over 70 leading astronomers are involved in the project.

Images of the launch are available from Lucy Stone in the STFC Press Office. Email: Tel: 01235 445627/07920 870125

LOFAR UK is funded through a collaboration of 22 UK universities with the SEPnet consortium and the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council, making it the largest radio astronomy consortium in the country. Over 70 leading UK astronomers are directly involved in the project. 

For more information about the SEPnet consortium, see:

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 22 September 2010