Inaugurated: Onsala’s LOFAR station

On Monday 26 September 2011, Sweden’s minister for Education and Science Jan Björklund inaugurated Sweden’s part of the International LOFAR telescope.

Hans Olofsson visar upp en LOFAR-antenn
Hans Olofsson introduces the minister to a LOFAR HBA antenna while other guests look on. (Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Jan-Olof Yxell)

Over 140 guests took part at the inauguration day at Onsala Space Observatory. Local and international guests mingled with staff from the observatory and Chalmers’ Department of Earth and Space Sciences, along with a number of local and regional journalists from TV, radio and newspapers (see links below).

LOFAR-data togs emot i Nederländerna
With a mouseclick and a little help from John Conway minister Jan Björklund sent Onsala’s LOFAR data to ASTRON in Groningen, Netherlands, where Jurjen Sluman (below right) and colleagues confirmed “You are now part of the network!”. (Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Jan-Olof Yxell)

A marquee in the shadow of the observatory’s 25-metre telescope, opened in 1964, was the venue for the inauguration ceremony. Department head Gunnar Elgered introduced five speakers, starting with Karin Markides, president of Chalmers. Observatory director Hans Olofsson explained the scientific drivers for LOFAR, the new window on the universe that the telescope opens and the promise of discovering the era of reionisation a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Karin Markides
Karin Markides, president of Chalmers, was the first to speak at the inauguration of Onsala’s LOFAR station. Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Jan-Olof Yxell

Rene Vermeulen, director of the International LOFAR Telescope, put the new station in context and explained how it will enable LOFAR to create high-resolution images. Göran Östlin, Stockholm University, underlined the importance of international scientific projects and research infrastructure. In her address, Kerstin Eliasson, chair for the Swedish Research Council’s Council for scientific research infrastructure, called on Sweden’s astronomers both to work together in projects like LOFAR and to plan and prioritise for the future of Swedish astronomy.

Finally, minister Jan Björklund described astronomy as a science which both addresses our biggest questions about the universe, and which awakens interest in people of all ages. He also took up the importance of basic science.

“I think it would be a big mistake for Sweden and for Europe to believe that cuts in basic scientific research will solve any problems. On the contrary, we create long-term problems if we reduce our ambitions in this area”, he said.

See below for links to the inauguration addresses.

As the moment of inauguration approached, John Conway guided the minister through the computer program that started Onsala’s LOFAR station. A pause followed while the data was processed, then the guests could see for themselves the first image in radio waves of the sky above the LOFAR station. Radio waves from our galaxy, the Milky Way, dominate the picture, along with the Sun and supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. To create the sharpest images, data from alla LOFAR’s stations needs to be combined. With a mouseclick, Jan Björklund started data transfer over a high-speed link to the Netherlands, making Onsala’s station a part of the International LOFAR Telescope.  Staff in the Netherlands confirmed by video link that the data was arriving – so it was time to cork up the champagne!

Jan Björklund bland LOFAR-antenner
Education minister Jan Björklund visited the newly inaugurated LOFAR station in Onsala. Behind him: the station’s low-frequency antennas. (Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Haukur Sigurðarson)

A guided tour of the LOFAR station was next on the programme. Here a number of media interviews were also made, with the minister and with Hans Olofsson, Carina Persson and Robert Cumming from the observatory staff among the station’s 192 new antennas. The day was rounded off with lunch, coffee and visits to the Observatory’s exhibition hall and its other telescopes and instruments.

Utbildningsministern med Hans Olofsson
Hans Olofsson greeted education minister Jan Björklund outside Onsala Space Observatory’s exhibition hall. Credit: Onsala Space Observatory/Jan-Olof Yxell

What was it like to be there? Somehow, we struck a perfect balance between ceremony and celebration, science and delight in something new and exciting. After a cloudy start the sun broke gradually through the clouds, reflecting the optimistic mood of the occasion. From the response of the guests both on the day and afterwards, we’re convinced that everyone was happy to have taken part.
A number of news reports from the inauguration were broadcast on the evening after: see below for links.
Read the inauguration addresses

Here you can read Jan Björklund’s, Kerstin Eliasson’s and Karin Markides’ addresses to the LOFAR inauguration in Onsala on September 26, 2011. Jan Björklund’s and Karin Markides’ addresses are in Swedish.

Onsala’s LOFAR station and the inauguration in the Swedish media

(text: Daniel Johansson and Robert Cumming)

About Robert Cumming

Astronomer and information officer at Onsala Space Observatory. Press contact for LOFAR in Sweden.
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