Thursday, 3 April 2014

LOFAR Planetarium

As we know from the various images from KAIRA (including the latest all-sky image on the right), the LOFAR system is suitable for creating maps of the entire visible sky.  With a day of observing, it is possible to therefore image the entire radio-sky as seen from that location.

Showing the entire sky is not easy; there are always issues with the projection to use and conveying a sense of angular scale. For visual observing the traditional way of doing this is via a planetarium.

In 2010, at the time I was working on the LOFAR-UK project, I had a conversation with Jenny Shipway from the Winchester Science Centre regarding the new LOFAR facility at Chilbolton. We realised that a planetarium would be ideal for portraying the data that the telescope could generate. A quick mock-up version was created using some 408 MHz data, which demonstrated that the concept was feasible.

Since then, the LOFAR-Planetarium idea was formalised and some more people got involved -- in particular, Andrew Fletcher, who now runs the project. We took a huge series of data from the LOFAR station at Chilbolton and generated high-resolution (3600x1800 pixel) images that can be projected directly from a digital planetarium, such as the one at Winchester.

The equirectangular projection of the radio sky (Image: lofar-planetarium.org.uk)

Modern planetaria are capable of overlaying optical and radio data and fading seamlessly between them. Thus it is possible to use these images to demonstrate the relationship between the optical and radio sky and use this as a starting point to explain the astrophysics behind it.

The LOFAR Planetarium is a public outreach project of the LOFAR-UK consortium, funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council (STFC) and Newcastle University.

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