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Young Astrophysicist Receives ERC Starting Grant of € 1.5 Million

Professor Stijn Buitink, who since recently heads VUB’s Astronomy and Astrophysics research group, receives a European Research Council starting grant of € 1.5 million.

With this money, Prof. Buitink and his team will research the short showers of radio waves which are emitted when cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. To determine the mass, energy, and arrival direction of these cosmic particles, which consist of protons and heavier nuclei, researchers will make use of the LOFAR telescope. This is the world’s biggest radio telescope, which is composed of not one dish, but of thousands of individual antennas spread all over Europe. In contrast to traditional dish telescopes, LOFAR constantly monitors the whole sky, recording cosmic ray radio flashes whenever they occur.

The complex radio patterns which LOFAR registers carry information about cosmic rays, and will help us to better understand, and disentangle, the intra-galactic and extra-galactic contributions to the cosmic-ray flux.

In addition, the ERC Starting Grant will be applied to the development of a new observational method. This new technique should allow us to register the radio waves created when high-energetic particles crash into the moon. If we learn how to correctly read these cosmological clues, the whole moon will, in effect, amount to one gigantic particle detector.