LOFAR Sky Map Reveals One Million Never-Before-Seen Galaxies 

February 25, 2022

JÜLICH, Germany, Feb. 25, 2022 — For seven years, an international research team has collected radio signals from space. The data have now been published as a new sky map, which provides a unique picture of the wonders of our universe. For the first time, 4.4 million galaxies were made visible in the radio wave range. One million of these galaxies were previously completely unknown. The discoveries were made using the European LOFAR telescope, the largest radio telescope ever built. The Jülich supercomputer JUWELS, currently the fastest supercomputer in Europe, helped to process the gigantic data sets with its enormous computing power.

A composite radio (LoTSS; red) and infrared (WISE; white) image of the Coma cluster which is over 300 million light years from Earth and consists of over 1,000 individual galaxies. The radio image shows radiation from highly energetic particles that pervade the space between the galaxies. Copyright: Annalisa Bonafede

By using the European radio telescope LOFAR, the researchers have mapped around a quarter of the northern sky in unprecedented resolution and made it accessible to the public online at https://lofar-surveys.org. The vast majority of these objects are billions of light years away and are either galaxies that harbor massive black holes or are rapidly growing new stars. Rarer objects that have been discovered include colliding groups of distant galaxies and flare stars within the Milky Way.

“This project is so exciting to work on. Each time we create a map, our screens are filled with new discoveries and objects that have never before been seen by human eyes,“ says Timothy Shimwell from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and Leiden University.

New Members in the Galaxy Zoo

The wealth of new information contained in the maps is evident from a host of recent scientific publications that make use of the radio images. For example, the team today published the largest ever studies of colliding galaxy clusters comprising between hundreds and thousands of galaxies – the universe’s largest structures.

Previous results include: finding curious signals from nearby stars that may be induced by orbiting exoplanets; pinpointing the slowest spinning pulsar that challenges current theories describing such objects; observing so called “jellyfish galaxies” shedding material as they travel through the surrounding medium; and discovering so many radio galaxies of all shapes, sizes, and ages that a citizen science project has been set up to help find new black holes in this zoo of objects.

Remains of a supernova: A composition radio (LoTSS; purple), UV (GALEX; yellow) and X-ray (ROSAT; blue) image of the Cygnus loop supernova remnant. This spectacular structure in the Milky Way is something to look forward to in future LoTSS data releases as the survey is now beginning to explore our Galaxy. Copyright: Jennifer West

Data to Fill 20,000 Laptop Hard Drives

Whilst these discoveries are already refining our understanding of the universe, it is also clear that the research conducted to date merely scratches the surface of what is yet to come. The data that have been released only represent 27 percent of the entire survey. Nevertheless, they are based on really large data sets. To produce the map, researchers processed 3,500 hours of observations that occupy 8 petabytes of disk space – the equivalent to roughly 20,000 laptops. A large part of this, over 60 percent, comes from the LOFAR long-term archive at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC). The JSC at Forschungszentrum Jülich is one of three data centers participating in the project. It hosts about one third of the LOFAR data archive, which totals around 55 petabytes.

“In order to make sense of this enormous amount of data generated by the LOFAR telescope, high-performance computers stationed throughout Europe are used. A major challenge is the calibration of the measured signals, for which we were able to access the Jülich supercomputer JUWELS, which has a computing capacity equivalent to 300,000 modern PCs,” says Matthias Hoeft of the Thuringian State Observatory in Tautenburg. “This is an important task. In a first step, interfering influences on the signals are determined from the measurement data using cutting-edge algorithms. These disturbances are filtered out if necessary, so that the actual brightness distribution of the sky can be reconstructed for scientific evaluations.”

To read more, including the prospect of further findings, visit the original article at this link.


Source: Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC)

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