At the start 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. “Heaven has opened”, headlined the Catholic Volkskrant of the time. The journalist mentions a miracle. With the help of radio telescopes, the sky would open up much wider.
Due to Covid-19, participants are allowed to enter the Dwingeloo Space Telescope in small groups, where they are shown how the telescope receives radio radiation containing information about hydrogen gas. Right now, the telescope is pointed at a place in the sky where the remains of a supernova can be seen in the Crab Nebula, about 6,500 light years away. Guests are audibly impressed by the volunteers who operate the telescope. “What a difference between the bureaucracy in which some people are involved and scientific research.”
Smartphones turned off next to satellite dishes
And the journey continues through the rainy Drenthe, to Westerbork. Smartphones should be turned off, as they interfere with measurements made with the fourteen satellite dishes. They are all pointed at the same place in the sky, so they can sweep a very small part of the dome of the sky.
Meanwhile, the development of radio telescopes has not stopped. Large dishes are no longer needed, but many very small antennas are used together. They can be found at the Super Mound in Exloo. “The antennas were planted on this super mound,” Westerman explains. “The people at Astron have told me they’re made of stuff you can just buy at the hardware store. They’re like tent poles, as tall as a person, with guy wires, and that’s it. ‘antenna.
Antennas in mattresses
Some of these antennas are contained in a type of mattress, called “tiles” by scientists. “If you could look at it from above, it looks like a kind of helipad for spaceships. It’s so futuristic, I don’t know what to compare it to. But here in this swampy land, the new spatial ear is flattered in the landscape. And this space ear is linked to other auxiliary space ears further away 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 the hedges of reeds and nettles grow high. With wet clothes and a mountain of great experiences, the group returns to the city of Groningen at the end of the day.
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