Measuring Cosmic Magnetism with the Low Frequency Radio Array

Project: Research project

Description

Overview: We propose an NSF International Research Experience for Students (IRES) to carry out low-frequency radio measurements of cosmic magnetism through a collaboration between Arizona State University (ASU) and the German Long Wavelength Consortium (GLOW). Each year, the program will fund two first-year graduate students and four advanced undergraduates, who will carry out research projects using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a remarkable new European radio telescope, now coming into its own. Due to its sensitivity, resolution, and frequency coverage, LOFAR will allow for intergalactic magnetic field measurements orders of magnitude better than previously possible. The program will build on the long-standing collaboration between the PI, Prof. Evan Scannapieco of ASU, and the lead foreign collaborator, Prof. Marcus Brggen of the University of Hamburg, to bring IRES students into the groups that will lead the way in these forefront observations.

Intellectual Merit: Magnetic fields thread the universe, setting the criteria for star formation in galaxies, controlling the evolution of galaxy clusters, and altering the intergalactic medium from which all galaxies formed. Yet very little is known about their properties.
LOFAR is the first of a new generation of telescopes that operates in the extremely low frequency range between 10 and 240 MHz. As magnetic fields are primarily detected by their interactions with cosmic rays, only telescopes at these low frequencies, which correspond to low cosmic ray energies, are able to make sensitive measurements out in the depths of intergalactic space.
With this remarkable new tool, the projects carried out by IRES students will help to open a new window on the magnetic universe. On galaxy scales, they will probe the connection between star formation and magnetism and the origin of the magnetic fields that surround galaxies. On galaxy cluster scales, they will probe the unknown physics of the hot intracluster medium and the evolution of the mysterious radio relics. On cosmic scales they will uncover the magnetic properties of the web of gas that connects all galaxies. Together they will be filling in a key piece of the fundamental question: what is the structure of the Universe on the largest scales?

Broader Impact: Beyond contributing to these discoveries, the program will have a dramatic impact on the careers of the 18 student participants. Each year the centerpiece of the program will be a seven-week research visit to Hamburg Germany, punctuated by side visits to other LOFAR institutions. The student research projects, which will be completed in Arizona in collaboration with a team at ASU, will build close ties that will help to nurture and promote the students careers long after the program is completed.
Even more importantly, the expertise that the students gain from the work will allow them to play a leading role in the impressive series of low-frequency experiments that will take place over the next decade. These include the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a multi-billion dollar telescope that will be the most powerful radio interferometer ever built. This highly flexible instrument will make a wide range of spectacular observations beginning at the end of the decade, and some of the students participating in this IRES proposal may well be the leaders that first make these measurements.
Finally the project will include a significant component targeted at communicating our work to the public, which we have found to be extremely excited about astrophysics and the evolution of cosmic magnetic fields. At the national level, the PI and other members of the ASU team will continue to contribute to popular science journals such as Scientific American. At the local level, the faculty and student participants will give public lectures, use their work to create interactive presentations for the annual Earth and Space Exploration Day and help the student participants to prepare presentations of their own, allowing them to communicate the excitement of their research experience directly to the local community.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date9/15/158/31/19

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $248,212.00

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students
low frequencies
galaxies
magnetic fields
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telescopes
star formation
cosmic rays
radio interferometers
extremely low frequencies
communicating
intergalactic media
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space exploration
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radio telescopes
lectures
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