Update (4): the windmills at LOFAR

22-12-2016, 13:00

Photo: Creative Commons, Scutter

The year is coming to an end. As part of its recap series, Vox wanted to provide its readers with an update. Part 3: Professor of Astrophysics Heino Falcke on the windmills in Drenthe, dangerously close to the LOFAR telescope.

Six months ago, things were looking bleak for the LOFAR telescope in Drenthe. This large radio telescope consists of thousands of antennas distributed across Europe. Astronomers throughout Europe use LOFAR to investigate the origins of cosmic particles, among other things. Professor of Astrophysics Heino Falcke is one of the initiators of LOFAR and has spent the past few years expanding the radio antenna network throughout Europe. And with success. Using numerous measuring points in Europe, astronomers can now pick up high-resolution radio signals from space. As a result, LOFAR has become the biggest radio telescope in the world. The core is located between Exloo and Buinen in Drenthe, of all places.

Old plan
Unfortunately the government decided to build fifty two-hundred-metre-tall windmills just seven kilometres away. The electromagnetic radiation from these windmills would not only interfere with the astronomers’ research, according to Falcke it would also damage their reputation as a reliable partner. Last spring, astronomers at universities, research institutes and national astronomy organisations throughout Europe expressed their concerns in a letter sent to Minister Henk Kamp. How did things turn out?

“The minister eventually took our concerns seriously.”

“We reached an agreement with the minister a few weeks ago,” says Falcke. “The technology used in the windmills will limit the electromagnetic radiation as much as possible, and the windmills themselves will be purposefully turned off a few days per year. Plus, the closest windmills in the government’s old plan will no longer be built.”

But Falcke is less than thrilled with the new plan. “It would have been much better if the windmills weren’t built at all. Even though the minister eventually took our concerns seriously, we weren’t entirely sure that he would. We’ll have to go the extra mile to minimise the interference from the windmills. And I’m sure the extra costs won’t be covered by the government.”

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