SpaceTweeps meet in Cologne: #SpaceKoelsch

SpaceKoelschAfter the great success of the first European #SpaceTweetup, a bunch of European spacetweeps, led by DLR social media editor @HenningKrause, decided to start the new year with a new tweetup. More a networking event than a tweetup, it became the sequel to #SpaceKoelsch. Last September this was the pre-party to the ESA/DLR #Spacetweetup. Now the event in a typical Cologne beerhall became the main event itself. #SpaceKoelsch 2 was born!

With the date set to Saturday evening January 14th, a group of tweeps decided to turn the evening into a spacetweeps weekend, with a pre-party on Friday evening and an ad-hoc program during the day on Saturday. And again it was DLR’s Henning to jump forward and organize a perfect daytime spacetweeps excursion to two of Europe’s most famous radio telescopes, which happen to be near Cologne. A great start to a great new spaceyear! Here is a report of the event(s):

#EifelDishes 1 – Astropeiler 25 meter Radio Telescope

After a great pre-launch party with about 8 spacetweeps, we got up early on Saturday to meet the group. After a short drive through the scenic Eifel region in western Germany we see the target of our first visit of the day. A large radio dish on top of a hill. Our satnav systems do not know how to handle the mountain roads, but after a few muddy u-turns and some true offroad driving we find the parking lot at the dish. The Astropeiler was built for combined military/civil usage in 1955, during the end of Allied governance of Germany. The German military used it as a radar dish to check airtraffic to and from Berlin. When in civil use, the 25 meter (75 feet) dish was turned towards the wonders of the universe. This was the pre-spaceflight era, when a lot was to be discovered. Because of this strict separation, and secrecy of the cold war, the observatory had two totally separated control rooms. Both had no idea what the other team was working on in their designated time slots. When built, the Astropeiler was the largest and most accurate radio telescope in the world.



Military use was soon abandoned, so the telescope became dedicated to space research. In 1965 a 10 meter solar radio telescope was added to the grounds. When requirements for better observations increased, a much larger dish was constructed in nearby Effelsberg in 1972. In 1975 the Astropeiler was abandoned for scientific work. A period of decay and miscellaneous non-scientific work started. In 2005 the structure became a national monument and in 2007 restoration started. Since 2010 a group of 140 volunteer amateur astronomers is running the telescope for scientific research restarted.


Spacetweeps on the Astropeiler

#EifelDishes 2 – Effelsberg 100 meter Radio Telescope

The second object of the radio astronomy excursion leads us to the second largest freestanding radio telescope in the world. The scientific successor of the Astropeiler is the 1972-built 100 meter (300 feet) Effelsberg radio telescope, about 30 kilometers from the first dish. In contrast to the Astropeiler this telescope is built on the bottom of a U-shaped valley, protecting it from high winds on the top.


A very enthusiastic astronomer of the Max-Planck Institute explains us how the telescope operates, and what results it has gathered. It runs 24/7 for several projects. Effelsberg is an important part of the worldwide network of radio telescopes. The combination of different telescopes in interferometric mode makes possible to obtain the sharpest images of the universe. During the presentation we see several awesome images of the universe.

Effelsberg radio telescope

After the presentation we walk down to the telescope on the bottom of the valley. Next to the high tech device we first pass a low tech LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) installation. Although it looks like a tree nursery, this actually is one of the latest radio observatory devices, with sites all over the globe, connected by fast data connections. Then we pass the large dish. The view from directly underneath the dish is breathtaking, especially since it moves around and up and down every couple of minutes, changing its field of view for subsequent observations. We continue our walk to the control room uphill. Who said attending a tweetup cannot be considered a sports event!

Due to the busy schedule of the few weekend-operators we can only see the controlroom through glass, but we get a very special privilege instead. We get clearance to get up to the 20 meter maintenance platform on the actual dish! We climb down an underground staircase where we are provided with bright blue helmets. Then we get outside where our group of about 20 people is split into two smaller groups. In our group we get into a small industrial elevator in one of the main legs of the structure to get up to directly underneath the dish. The view of the dish and surrounding landscape is just awesome! We inspect the large electric motors that position the dish’s azimuth and elevation, while they are running.

On the Effelsberg radio telescop

After this great climbing trip we descend further into the underground tunnels below the telescope, where all power and data cables come down from the structure through its central vertical axis. An impressive set of cables between the dish and the controlroom up the hill.

Inside the Effelsberg radio telescop

#SpaceKoelsch2 – Bringing space professionals and tweeps together

The evening after the double radio telescope visit we get ourselves ready for the main event. Our host Henning has reserved 35 seats in a traditional Cologne beer hall, of which there are many in the city. So around 8pm we enter the large venue, where we have a long table somewhere in the back. Many spacetweeps are already there. It is great to see so many familiar faces. Most of us have only met once before, at the spacetweetup last September 2011. But since that event most of us have stayed in touch online, so it feels like a meeting with 35 good friends! There is no need to describe to what happens when you cross international spacetweeps friends, a few space professionals and a few (?) glasses of the local brew. It was a great success!


After the beer hall event about half the group gathers at the apartment where many of us stay – aptly renamed #SoyuzFlats for the occasion. Here we watch the #SpaceTweetup movie by @giniexxcee and the #SoyuzTweetup movie by @timmermansr. In a way tonight is the first spontaneous #SpaceUp unconference that takes place in Europe. But that is a whole different new story…

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