Across Europe, some 10 000 antennas stand courtly, like squat flag poles. They may not look like much, but they are in a sense an incredibly powerful time machine.
Known collectively as the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), the antennas are receiving radio signals that have travelled billions of years to get here, from the depths of the cosmos. That means they are looking billions of years into the past, when the universe was almost featureless – and when planets, stars or galaxies didn’t exist.
Because light travels at a finite speed, all telescopes look into the past to some extent. But astrophysicist Professor Dominik Schwarz of Bielefeld University in Germany, who helped to plan the telescope, said the ‘cosmic dawn cannot be seen with any other instrument’. […]
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