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Focus on magnetic fields between stars and galaxies: New space research unit starts in 2010

Jacobs University will participate in a new research unit of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG) under the lead of the University of Bonn.

The group's main objective is to explore the origin and structure of cosmic magnetic fields and their impact on galaxy development.

Funded for an initial three-years-period with a total of 1.9 million Euros, the researchers will employ the world's first digital and at the same time largest telescope "LOFAR" as well as supercomputer simulations to analyze the telescope observations. The Jacobs research team under the lead of Marcus Brüggen, Professor of Astrophysics, receives about 200,000 Euros of the project money.

Astrophysicists have known for quite a while that the gas between the stars of a galaxy as well as the cosmic medium between galaxies is magnetized, generating giant magnetic fields that vary in size between ten and several millions of light years in diameter. However, very little is known about their origin and the impact they have on the development of galaxies.

The key to the analysis of these magnetic fields in outer space is the so-called synchrotron radiation of electrons, which is generated by the electrons' orbital acceleration at near light-speed through these magnetic fields. The electrons were charged with the energy necessary for such radiation through shock waves of cosmic "catastrophes" like supernova explosions, collisions of galaxies or even whole galaxy clusters. The radiation pattern of the electrons, which reflects the stars' or galaxies' history, thus becomes a marker for surveying and interpreting the magnetic fields from Earth, which would otherwise not be possible.

Central to the effective and sensitive detection of the cosmic synchrotron radiation is the newly constructed digital telescope LOFAR (acronymic for Low Frequency ARay). While classical radio telescopes collect cosmic radiation with motor-operated dish-like antennae, which scan different areas of space with computer-controlled movements, LOFAR does not require any moving parts. It consists of a set of simple, small radio antennae fixed to the ground that are spread all over Europe. One antenna station, constructed by Jacobs University, is positioned close to the German city of Jülich.

All data coming in from the different antenna locations are correlated by one of the world's fastest supercomputers located in Groningen (The Netherlands). This way, the array of antennae acts like a giant radio-telescope with an equivalent dish-size of several hundred kilometres in diameter, which not only provides the telescope with a so far unparalleled sensitivity. It also enables astronomers to scan space in several directions at the same time. The interpretation of LOFAR's measurements within the scope of the DFG research unit will be accomplished by supercomputer simulations.

The DFG consortium's other research partners, besides Jacobs University and the University of Bonn, are the Ruhr University Bochum, the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam, die Ludwig Maximilian's University Munich, the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, and the Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg.

Contact at Jacobs University:
Marcus Brüggen, Ph. D. | Professor of Astrophysics
Phone: +49 421 200-3251 | E-Mail:

Dr. Kristin Beck | idw
Further information:

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