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French NenuFAR telescope granted SKA Pathfinder status

The SKA Organisation has officially recognised NenuFAR, a French radio telescope, as a Pathfinder Project of the SKA telescope. 

The NenuFAR instrument in France and the international LOFAR telescope array

NenuFAR, which stands for New Extension in Nançay Upgrading LOFAR, is a new low-frequency radio telescope under construction at the Nançay Observatory near Orleans to extend the existing international LOFAR radio telescope, an array of low frequency antennas spread across eight European countries and centred in the Netherlands.

“With this announcement, NenuFAR is recognised as an instrument concept paving the way for the new science to be done with the SKA”, said Gilles Theureau, Director of the Nançay Observatory. “It’s excellent news for the project, as well as for the Nançay Observatory.”

The SKA officially has three precursor telescopes, MeerKAT, ASKAP and MWA. Located at SKA sites in South Africa and Western Australia, these precursors are and will be carrying out scientific studies related to future SKA activities, as well as helping the development and testing of new crucial SKA technologies.

Unlike precursors, pathfinder telescopes and systems are dotted around the globe. They include the famous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which starred in the James Bond movie “Goldeneye”, the LOFAR low frequency array, which is based in Europe, and the JVLA, in North America, which was famously seen in the hit movie “Contact”, amongst others. They are also engaged in SKA-related technology and science studies. A full list is available here.

NenuFAR will not only be an extension of LOFAR but also a stand-alone instrument. As an SKA pathfinder, the feedback from the design, construction and operation of NenuFAR will be used by the SKA Organisation to facilitate the development of the SKA.

“NenuFAR is a promising instrument and the SKA’s low frequency array will certainly benefit from the development and lessons learnt on this project”, said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation. “We are happy to support the French community’s efforts and look forward to working more closely with our colleagues in France in the near future.”

“The decision by the SKA Organisation to grant NenuFAR the official status of SKA Pathfinder is an important signal for the French community, recognising our expertise in radioastronomy,” added Denis Mourard, Deputy Director for Science of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers of CNRS.


Further reactions from French stakeholders following the announcement:

“This status as SKA Pathfinder will further increase our motivation and efficiency to complete the construction of NenuFAR Phase 1 as scheduled, and to prepare the next phases, thereby contributing to the development of SKA.” Claude Catala, President of the Observatoire de Paris

“This recognition confirms our hopes to consolidate between Nançay, Orleans and Paris a world-class pole in radioastronomy in the 21st century.” Youssoufi Touré, President of the University of Orleans

“This is excellent news. It will encourage us to draw from each step of the development of NenuFAR – starting with the completion of its phase 1 – useful lessons for the design and future operation of the SKA. At the same time it will give us a huge boost in seeking support for the following phases to bring NenuFAR to its full potential. It will contribute to unify the french radio community behind both NenuFAR and the SKA.” Michel Tagger and Philippe Zarka, principal investigators of NenuFAR.