Drenthe radio telescopes as stopping places for cosmic comedy

At the beginning of the 20th century, these scientists still believed that our solar system was at the center of the universe. Jan Hendrik Oort discovers that our solar system is not at all in the middle of the Milky Way, but on the edge – in a suburb. “Paradise has opened,” was the headline of the then Catholic newspaper De Volkskrant. The reporter mentions a miracle. With the help of radio telescopes, the sky will open wider.

Because of Covid-19, participants are allowed to enter the Dwingeloo Space Telescope in small groups, where they are explained how the telescope receives radio radiation containing information about hydrogen gas. Currently, the telescope is pointed at a spot in the sky where a supernova remnant can be seen in the Crab Nebula, about 6,500 light-years away. Guests audibly admire the volunteers who keep the telescope running. “What a different world between the bureaucracy that some people are involved in and scientific research.”

Smartphones are broken next to satellite dishes

The journey continues via Drenthe to Westerbork. Smartphones must be turned off, as they interfere with measurements made with the 14 satellite dishes. They all target the same spot in the sky, so that they can scan a very small portion of the sky’s dome.

In the meantime, the development of radio telescopes did not stop. Large dishes are no longer needed, but lots of very small antennas are used together. It can be found in the Super mound in Exloo. “The antennas were planted on top of that super-mound,” Westerman says. “The folks at Astron tell me they are made of things you can simply buy at the hardware store. They are like tent poles, person height, with ropes, and that is the antenna.”

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Antennas in mattresses

Some of these antennas are contained in a type of mattress, which scientists call “tiles.” “If you can look at it from above, it looks like some kind of spaceship helipad. It’s very futuristic, and I don’t know what to compare it to. But here, in this marshy land, the new ear of space lies in the landscape. And this ear is attached Satellite with other satellite ears in Drenthe, Germany, Poland, England and Italy”.

As an exception, the whole group is allowed to walk between the antennas of the radio telescope, where reeds and nettle hedges grow. With wet clothes and a mountain of beautiful experiences, the group returns to Groningen at the end of the day.

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