Looking back across what resembles a mini Sahara desert atop a plinth, speckled with little coloured rods that wouldn’t look out of place in a Willy Wonka wonderland, we are struck by the sudden emergence of the silhouette of what will soon be our LOFAR station.
Last week saw the outset of the station layout in Birr, Ireland. The efforts were led by our surveyor from Astron, Edwin Busch and our very own Joe McCauley. We also had two willing students on-site, Aoife Ryan and Hannah Currivan. The mission, should they decide to accept it, was to place over 800 50cm plastic rods into the ground. Easy you might say? Far from it!
There were three different coloured rods for both the HBA and LBA fields. Each colour denoted a different function (cable exit, cable entry, trench position etc.). Some of the rods even had a specific number to indicate the number on HBA tile that would soon replace it. Let the games begin!
Edwin had the coordinates and he, along with his GPS range pole, directed us to each of our 800 positions throughout the two fields. Each rod had to be placed with centimetre accuracy. It became apparent all too quickly that the mission to “place” each rod in the ground was going to be the challenge of all challenges. Unfortunately our lovely mound of dirt on which the state of the art LOFAR station is to be built is predominantly small rocks, stone and compact dirt as opposed to the lovely sandy soils of the Netherlands where this method was perfected. Cue the power drill!! Hauling around a generator we drilled each of the holes in the ground, “placed” the correct rod and hammered it securely into the ground…800 times.
It was a tough four days, of blisters, hard hats and suncream, but it was so very worth it!! With the markers now in place we can look forward to the next LOFAR chapters full of trenching, cable laying and antenna building this summer in Birr.
At a presentation at the French Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin, Professor Peter Gallagher from the School of Physics was invested as a Chevalier des Palmes Académiques/Knight of the Order of Academic Palms.
Originally a decoration founded by Emperor Napoléon in 1808 to honour eminent members of the University of Paris, the Chevalier des Palmes Académiques is a national order of merit of France for distinguished academics and figures in the world of culture and education. The Chevalier award recognizes Professor Teeling’s and Professor Gallagher’s contributions to scientific research here and around the world.
Peter is a Professor in Physics and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity College Dublin, where he runs a large research group focusing on understanding solar activity and its effects on the Earth. He was recently appointed as an advisor to the Director of Science at the European Space Agency’s Headquarters in Paris, and is currently building Ireland’s first research-grade radio telescope at Birr Castle Demesne in Co. Offaly, supported by Science Foundation Ireland.
Peter shared the honour with his wife, Professor Emma Teeling who was also invested as a Chevalier des Palmes Académiques/Knight of the Order of Academic Palms at the same event. Emma is a Professor in Zoology and a member of the Governing Authority at University College Dublin. Emma holds a prestigious European Research Council grant for her research using bats as a model to uncover the biological basis of healthy ageing. Much of her team’s field-work is based in Brittany, France in collaboration with the conservation organisation Bretagne Vivante. Professor Teeling is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and on the board of the Irish Research Council.
Our extra-terrestrial trucker, Dr Ryan Milligan, made the first collections of parts for the Irish LOFAR telescope from the Netherlands this week. Here he tells us about his astronomical haul from the Netherlands to Birr, Co. Offaly in the Irish Midlands.
When else would a PhD in astrophysics and a truck driving licence be of use? When you are collecting a huge radio telescope of course! Well, this week I-LOFAR team member and truck driver, Dr. Ryan Milligan, collected the first shipment of parts for the Irish LOFAR station from ASTRON in the Netherlands.
Ireland will soon have it’s very own LOFAR radio telescope, which will connect Irish astronomers to the huge International LOFAR Telescope. The international telescope is made up of a thousands of antennas spread across Europe and is being used by Europe’s leading scientists to study the early universe, exploding stars, the Sun and to search for new planets. With the new Irish station, LOFAR will stretch nearly 2,000 km from Ireland to Poland.
And as the luck of us Irish would have it, we have our very own truck-driving astrophysicist, Dr. Ryan Milligan. Ryan has a PhD in astrophysics from Queen’s University Belfast, and has spent most of his career working with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
But before this, Ryan was a truck driver, hauling all kinds of loads for the family fish business in Co. Down. “I still love driving trucks now and again”, according to Ryan. “There’s nothing more relaxing than few days on the road in a Scania with AC/DC at full volume”.
Ryan was actually Professor Peter Gallagher’s first PhD student back in his NASA days. “I was building a radio telescope and we needed a truck driver, so no better man than Ryan”, said Peter, who is leading the Irish LOFAR station build.
This week is a huge week for the I-LOFAR consortium, as we look forward to receiving the first delivery of parts for the Irish LOFAR station. With the help of our transport partners, Foremost Freight and Noel Howley Logistics, let’s hope all arrives in ship-shape at Birr Castle on Friday.
A research group at the Dublin Insitute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) has recently used LOFAR to detect T Tau, a young sun-like star. This is the lowest frequency detection of a young stellar object to date, and the first ever detection of a young star with LOFAR. This detection was made possible by combining the next-generation quality data produced by LOFAR with high performance computing provided by DIAS and the Irish Centre for High End Computing (ICHEC). Observing young stars at these extremely low frequencies offers new ways to characterise their radio emission and paves the way for investigating the formation of stars like our Sun with future radio telescopes such as the Square Kilometer Array.