The Universe just got a little more crowded with the discovery of more than 300,000 potential galaxies in a tiny corner of the northern sky.
A release of data collected by the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope network in Europe has Added extraordinary new levels of detail to the map of radio waves across the cosmos, inspiring dozens of studies on everything from magnetic fields to black holes.
It's moments like these we should be grateful for our relative blindness to the night sky radiance – at least if we want to sleep at night. Invisible to the human eye, the Universe is in fact ablaze with low frequency waves produced by accelerating particles and electromagnetic fields.
Measuring that radio hum requires some pretty sensitive equipment. LOFAR's array of 20,000 antennas scattered across 48 stations in the Netherlands and abroad is like having a huge radio-sensitive eye on our planet's surface.
Among its many tasks is the intensive survey of the north night sky at radio frequencies of around 1
The journal Astronomy and Astrophysics has just published 26 studies based on this initial release release, covering quasars, blazars, black holes, and intergalactic electromagnetic fields.
One of the major reveals in the mosaic of sources is 325,694 points where the glow of radio waves surges to at least five times the background noise. Around 70 percent of these can be linked with an optical signal, so it's fairly safe to say that these bright spots represent galaxies we can add to our cosmic roadmap.
It's no secret that galaxies of sufficient size often harbor the gigantic black holes that swallow everything in reach with such temerity, they vomit jets of matter in the shining radio waves.
This new data is helping to convince the scientists that these monsters have undeniable appetite.
"LOFAR has a remarkable sensitivity and that allows us to see that these jets are present in all the most massive galaxies, which means that their black holes never stop eating, "says astrophysicist Philip Best of Edinburgh University.
Pinpointing the locations of new galaxies doesn't just help us understand their internal structures, it provides a valuable tool for understanding the vast stretches of nothingness in between.
Usually, radio waves are generated by turbulence stirred up as a galaxy collider.
"What we are beginning to see with LOFAR is that in some cases, the cluster of galaxies that are not merging can also show this emission, albeit "This discovery tells us that besides merger events, there are other phenomena that can trigger particle acceleration over huge scales."
"This discovery tells us that besides merger events, there are other phenomena that can trigger particle acceleration over huge scales."
Above: G alaxy cluster Abell 1314 as imaged by LOFAR. The gray indicates the visible light, while the orange hues show the 'hidden' radio emissions, completely changing the picture.
The sensitivity of the LOFAR's eye on the sky has also helped researchers trace the faint magnetic fields that have been predicts to exist in intergalactic space but until now too hard to detect.
"Magnetic fields are penetrating the cosmos, and we want to understand how this happened," says University of Hamburg astronomer Shane O'Sullivan.
Closer to home , the sheer amount of raw data collected by surveys such as this requires new ways to process information that is not just time efficient but also not chewing through too much power.
"We have been working together with SURF in the Netherlands to work efficiently with […]"
The data management collaborative, SURF, currently storing more than 20 petabytes of LOFAR's information, which is still only a little more than half of the total. transform the massive amounts of data into high-quality images, "says cosmologist Timothy Shimwell from the Netherlands Radio Astronomy Institute and Leiden University.
SURF's technology and processes makes relatively short work on crunching the numbers into something that can be used by diverse teams of researchers. What's more, it's all run 100 percent renewable energy.
This is just the beginning. There is plenty more sky left to uncover, which in the end could reveal about 15 million new sources of radio wave emissions, many stretching back to the dawn of the universe.
This is one bright future for the LOFAR sky survey.  This research was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics .