Studying Galactic and Intergalatic Magnetism with LOFAR

Project: Research project

Project Details


We propose an NSF International Research Experience for Students (IRES) to carry out low-frequency radio studies of cosmic magnetism through an international collaboration between the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration and the German Long Wavelength Consortium (GLOW). Each year the program would fund three ASU graduate students and two advanced undergraduates, who will carry out research projects using of the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a remarkable new European radio telescope, just now being completed. Due to its sensitivity, resolution, and frequency coverage, LOFAR will allow for magnetic field measurements that are orders of magnitude better than previous constraints. 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 Jacobs University in Bremen, to bring ASU 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 were 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 magnetic field 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 filamentary 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 15 student participants. Each year the centerpiece of the program will be a six-week research visit to Bremen 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, they will give regular public lectures, use their work as the basis for interactive presentations for the
Effective start/end date9/1/108/31/14


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $149,408.00

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