OSO has over its history been the focus for numerous observational, technical and scientific developments in radio astronomy. Starting from repurposed military dishes and then world-class telescopes built in the 1960s and 1970s, the observatory has played decisive roles in the history of Very Large Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) and of millimetre and submillimetre astronomy in both space and on the ground, in particular playing important roles in establishing and developing the European VLBI Network (EVN) and Geodetic VLBI networks, as well as the SEST, APEX, ALMA, LOFAR telescopes and the SKAO.
On state level, Sweden supports a wide range of research in astronomy and related fields. Research in space physics is carried out by the government-funded Institute for Space Physics, and the Swedish National Space Agency supports and oversees a strong space sector, both public and private.
During the design phase of the SKA telescopes, Swedish scientists and companies have participated in several international design consortia and have provided prototype receivers for SKA-mid. Swedish scientists have played key roles in defining the science case for the key goal of exploring the cosmic dawn and in many other fields.
Brief history of Sweden with the SKAO
The Swedish science community, led by OSO directors Roy Booth, Hans Olofsson and John Conway, took part in activities defining and developing the SKA project from its inception in the 1990s. In 2012, Onsala Space Observatory was given the task of representing Sweden in the SKA Organisation -a precursor to the SKA Observatory- during the SKA pre-construction phase, with the support of its host Chalmers University of Technology and the Swedish Research Council. During this phase, Swedish scientists led the design for wide-band single pixel feeds (an Advanced Instrumentation Programme) and participated in receiver development as part of the DISH consortium. In 2015 Sweden hosted one of the continuing series of global SKA Science Workshops. Held in Stockholm, this meeting was the first to start discussion on how SKA’s Key Science projects will be formed and fit together into an efficient programme.
Supporting the SKAO
In October 2021, an agreement was signed between the SKAO and Chalmers University of Technology, cementing Chalmers as the Swedish organisation initially coordinating Swedish inputs to the SKA project during the construction phase. This agreement followed on from a decision of the Swedish Research Council, in collaboration with the Swedish innovation agency VINNOVA, to fully fund Sweden’s participation in SKA construction and initial operations. In parallel with this agreement, Sweden is currently pursuing internal processes enabling Sweden to sign the SKA Observatory Convention in order to become a member of the Observatory. Sweden is active in all aspects of preparing for SKA construction including final industrial design for production and preparing for procurement activities involving Swedish companies. The country is also working actively to develop its node within the international SKA Regional Centre (SRC) network in order to be fully prepared to receive data from the SKA telescopes during the commissioning and early science phases and make these available to the Swedish community.
Swedish radio astronomers have historically had strong interests in VLBI, high-frequency radio astronomy, cosmic magnetism, evolved stars, molecular line astronomy and the epoch of reionisation, and these are reflected in membership in the SKA Science Working Groups. Astronomers in Sweden are additionally interested in observational cosmology, galaxy evolution, the Milky Way and its evolution, supernovae and related transients, stellar evolution, space and solar system physics, exoplanets and astrobiology, across the electromagnetic spectrum and beyond.
Sweden is home to a vibrant radio astronomy community, and in February 2023, Stockholm University played host to more than 60 scientists for the National SKA Science Day. In the video above, hear from some of them about the importance of the SKA telescopes for their work. Having trouble viewing this video? Access it here.
Building the SKAO
Development of innovative receiver technology is a strength of Onsala Space Observatory and its partners. In particular, the development of wide-band feeds, low-noise amplifiers and digitizers are all areas where synergies between Swedish universities and companies are being explored. OSO’s host university of Chalmers University of Technology is a national leader within AI, machine learning and data visualization and exciting synergies are currently being developed between OSO’s SRC node, researchers at Chalmers and the private sector.
Sweden hosts a station of the Pathfinder telescope LOFAR, located at Onsala Space Observatory.
Developing new technologies
The development for the SKA project of both room-temperature and cryogenic low-noise amplifiers by Low Noise Factory, a Gothenburg company, has led to new opportunities in quantum computing and in military applications.
Robert Cumming, Communicator, Onsala Space Observatory, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, tel. +46704933114
Visitor centre: The visitor centre at Onsala Space Observatory is open for pre-booked groups from late 2022. The centre offers visitors the chance to experience radio telescopes at first hand, and is designed as a way of experiencing the SKA telescopes without visiting the sites. More information is available on the Onsala Space Observatory website.