IN the quest to discover more about our universe and the birth of stars and galaxies, a new UK telescope at Chilbolton connected for the first time to others across Europe and has delivered its first radio pictures.

The images of the 3C196 quasar (a black hole in a distant galaxy) were taken in January by the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT).

LOFAR (Low Frequency Array), which is co-ordinated by ASTRON in the Netherlands, is a network of radio telescopes designed to study the sky at the lowest radio frequencies accessible from the surface of the Earth with unprecedented resolution.

The UK based telescope at STFC’s Chilbolton Observatory is the western most telescope station in LOFAR.

The addition of Chilbolton to other stations in Europe makes the LOFAR array almost 1,000 km wide – 10 times as large as the original array in the Netherlands – and creates the largest telescope in the world.

Derek McKay-Bukowski, STFC/SEPnet project manager at LOFAR Chilbolton, said: “This is a very significant event for the LOFAR project and a great demonstration of what the UK is contributing.

“The new images are three times sharper than has been previously possible with LOFAR.

“LOFAR works like a giant zoom lens – the more radio telescopes we add, and the further apart they are, the better the resolution and sensitivity. This means we can see smaller and fainter objects in the sky which will help us to answer exciting questions about cosmology and astrophysics.”

Professor Rob Fender, LOFAR-UK Leader from the University of Southampton, said: “This is fantastic.

“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 in the Netherlands.’’ Dr Philip Best, Deputy LOFAR-UK leader from the University of Edinburgh, said: “In visible light, quasar 3C196 (even through the Hubble Space Telescope) is a single point. By adding the international stations like the one at Chilbolton we reveal two main bright spots. This shows how the International LOFAR Telescope will help us learn about distant objects in much more detail.’’