News from space

Tracing the history of mechanical engineering – Episode 3: In a valley in the Eifel, cosmic researchers are busy capturing extraterrestrial radio waves in order to find out more about our universe. The receiver is a giant telescope with a diameter of 100 metres.


It has been performing its duties for science for 45 years. With the radio telescope in Effelsberg, near Bad Münstereifel, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy are exploring the Milky Way and other galaxies. And guest researchers from all over the world are regular visitors, too, for the giant white dish, measuring 100 metres in diameter, is completely moveable and therefore particularly efficient. Cosmic gas clouds, magnetic fields, black holes, comets, newly formed stars – whatever helps us to find out more about how the universe developed and how it will develop in the future is subjected to intense scientific scrutiny.

The radio signals often come from extreme distances and are usually pretty weak. To ensure that they can be received and evaluated, there is a concentration of state-of-the-art technology in Effelsberg, and it’s constantly being upgraded: ultrasensitive amplifiers; extremely precise control systems for the positioning of the reflector; and extremely low-noise electronics. The total weight of the steel construction is 3,200 tons, and 5,200 cubic metres of concrete went into making the foundation. The huge parabolic reflector of the telescope can be turned through 360 degrees in just twelve minutes, and tilted through 90 degrees in just six minutes.

Anyone curious to find out more is very welcome in Effelsberg. Regular talks and presentations are given at the visitor’s pavilion.