Are we alone? New radio telescope 'to potentially search for alien intelligence'
10 Jun 2010





Collaborators working on the LOFAR project - Credit:University of Portsmouth


Students, lecturers and researchers are helping scientists install the first major radio telescope in Britain for many decades at STFC’s Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire this week (June 7-11).  The telescope which is part of the European LOFAR project (Low Frequency Array) will ‘listen’ to the Universe at FM frequencies, helping astronomers detect when the first stars in the Universe were formed revealing more about how the Universe evolved.

The participants from a consortium of universities are helping scientists at Chilbolton to install the 96 telescope radio antennae. When completed, LOFAR will consist of over 5000 separate antennae spread in ‘stations’ all over Europe forming the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Derek Mckay works for STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory whose staff manage the Chilbolton site, says; “It’s been very satisfying watching the UK progress so quickly working with the students is great. They’re enthusiastic and enjoying the challenge. The work is going very well and the work is very exciting - I mean let’s face it, it’s the largest radio telescope in the world and to lead for the UK’s contribution is a fantastic opportunity”.

“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,” said Professor Bob Nichol of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, and LOFAR-UK spokesperson.  “Maybe we can answer the age-old question ‘Are we alone?’” 

The antennae will work at the lowest frequencies accessible from the Earth and will be connected using sophisticated computing and high speed internet. A super computer based in the Netherlands, will use digital electronics to combine the signals from the antennae to make images of the entire radio sky.

 “At the Chilbolton site, seven petabytes of raw data will be produced each year, which must be transferred in real time to Holland. That’s like streaming 100 high definition TV channels for every second of every day for the next five years. This exciting facility will also contribute to UK and European preparations for the planned global next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)," said Professor Rob Fender of the University of Southampton, Principal Investigator of the LOFAR-UK project.

LOFAR-UK is funded through a collaboration of UK universities with the SE​Pnet (link opens in a new window) consortium and the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council.

​For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries