Launch of I-LOFAR Education Centre & AstroLands Education Programme

Trinity College Dublin, Birr Scientific & Heritage Foundation, and Offaly County Council announce the opening of the I-LOFAR Education Centre and launch of the Astronomical Midlands Schools and Public Engagement Programme, with very special guest Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, on Thursday the 30thof May.

Astronomical Midlands, which has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, uses the recently refurbished I-LOFAR Education Centre at Birr Castle to connect with students, teachers and members of the public in rural communities in the Midlands. The refurbishment of the Education Centre has been supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht and Offaly County Council.

Áine Flood and Peter Gallagher from the I-LOFAR project together with Margie McCarthy (SFI) and Minister John Halligan.

Speaking about the event, Head of I-LOFAR, Professor Peter Gallagher says:

“Astronomical Midlands or AstroLands for short, will open new conversations with groups that have had little involvement with STEM using this unique new facility at Birr. This is a wonderful opportunity to carry forward the rich scientific heritage of Birr, allowing people in the Midlands to discover opportunities for further education and careers in STEM and inspire the next generation of scientific explorers.”

Funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Programme and the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO), Astronomical Midlands will embark on three key initiatives:

  • Space4Exploration: Create an engaging, inspirational and multi-use space in the I-LOFAR Education Centre.
  • Space4Students: Launch day-long and week-long space camps at the Education Centre that run during school term and school holidays for students aged 10 to 14.
  • Space4Teachers: Create CPD workshops for upper primary and lower secondary school teachers based around the National Junior Certificate themes of Earth and Space.

Secondary school students learning about astronomy at the I-LOFAR Education Centre.

The Irish LOFAR Consortium is proud to continue the rich heritage in astronomy at Birr Castle, taking Irish astrophysics from its pioneering days in the 18th century to the current state-of-the-art in the 21st century. The I-LOFAR Education Centre will complement the existing Science Visitor Centre at Birr Castle, which tells the story of past Irish achievements in science. The I-LOFAR Education Centre will provide an inspirational location for education workshops, and community-based STEM projects, such as CoderDojo. It will be equipped with a 3D video globe, a large video wall, numerous interactive flat screen displays, and a LOFAR radio telescope network activity wall.

The I-LOFAR Education Centre is being developed in partnership with Offaly County Council and has been supported by a grant from Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’s Rural Economic Development Zones (REDZ).

Notes for editors

  • Professor Peter Gallagher is available for interview ( ; +353 87 656 8975).
  • Dependent on schedule, the inspirational Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967, may be available for interview. In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.
  • The I-LOFAR radio telescope was primarily funded by Science Foundation Ireland, while membership of the International LOFAR Telescope is supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

For further information please contact:

Niamh O’Carroll, niamh@ocarrollconsulting.comor, +353 87 6286171

First Pulsar Light with I-LOFAR!

Pulsars are rotating neutron stars that beam radiation into space like rapidly rotating lighthouses. Last week a team of scientists from Ireland and the UK used I-LOFAR and a new Dell-EMC cluster called the “REALtime Transient Acquisition Cluster (REALTA)” to observe our first pulsar, B0950+08.

The plot below shows the first thirty seconds of an observation of pulsar with the I-LOFAR station at Birr, Co. Offaly. Signals that travel through the interstellar medium are delayed in a frequency-dependent way as they travel to Earth – the greater the distance the greater the delay. Here we recorded data from the direction of this pulsar and compensated for a range of different delays.

First pulsar light with I-LOFAR! Pulses detected every ~253.0638 milliseconds.

Every pulse detected is shown as a dot and the stronger the pulse the larger the dot. We can see a number of very strong pulses peaking at the delay corresponding to a distance of 260 parsec which is about 850 light years. This is the distance of the pulsar, and further examination of the time between the pulses shows that they come periodically every 253.0638 milliseconds – this is the rotation rate of the pulsar – there are about 4 pulsar ‘days’ every second for this star. This sounds extreme but it is in fact quite typical for a pulsar – the very fastest pulsar we know of spins 716 times per second with the ‘slowest’ taking 23.5 seconds to rotate once.

This is the first pulsar to be detected with I-LOFAR and marks the beginning of pulsar observing at the site. When fully up and running it should be capable of monitoring a hundred or so pulsars regularly.

Pulsar pulses act like the ticks of very precise clocks spread throughout the Milky Way. By monitoring these clocks one can study effects of gravity, high-density neutron star physics, the composition and structure of the Milky Way and much more besides.

These exciting investigations into fundamental questions of physics will be pursued from the I-LOFAR station, situated in the grounds of Birr Castle, and the performance is expected to improve. I-LOFAR’s sensitivity is best straight up and falls off towards the horizon, and this pulsar only ever gets as high as 45 degrees above the horizon. So the sensitivity in this direction is half the maximum, and for this first observation only one quarter of the available bandwidth was used reducing the sensitivity in half again. This is only the tip of the iceberg!

The observations were obtained by a team including Evan Keane (Square Kilometre Array/Jodrell Bank), Joe McCauley, Peter Gallagher, Pearse Murphy and Brian Coghlan (TCD), Griffin Foster (Oxford/Berkeley/Breakthough), Paul Callanan and Luke Timmons (UCC), and Matt Redman and Nevenoe Guegan (NUIG).

I-LOFAR and REALTA are supported by research infrastructure grants from Science Foundation Ireland. REALTA is owned by UCC and NUIG and hosted at TCD’s Rosse Observatory.

Introduction to Science, Operations and Data Analysis with an International LOFAR Station

School of Physics, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. 

January 8-10, 2018


This workshop will introduce researchers to LOFAR single-station science, operations and data analysis. The workshop will cover many aspects of an International LOFAR Station, from the capabilities of the station hardware to the software pipelines and science products that it produces.

Hands-on lab sessions will give attendees an opportunity to gain experience with data from an international LOFAR station. Students, postdocs, and staff are all encouraged to attend.

This workshop is supported by the Institute of Physics in Ireland.


If you would like to attend, please email John Quinn (UCD Physics). Please note that a registration fee of €50 will be payable at the meeting.


All tutorials will be given using the Python programming language (Python v3.6 and v2.7). We recommend that you run Python using Jupiter and/or Spyder, which can be installed using Anaconda. Further details on how to install these packages can be found here. An excellent introduction to Python for the analysis of astronomical data can be found at Python4Astronomers.

Internet Access

Wifi access will be provided via eduroam. Please ensure that you have registered for eduroam by contacting your IT services at your home institution before arriving in UCD.



  • Day 1 (Jan 8): LOFAR hardware and observing capabilities

10:00 – 10:30 Arrival and coffee 

10:30 – 10:45 Welcome and workshop goals [Quinn/Gallagher]

10:45 – 11:30 Overview of I-LOFAR [McCauley]

11:30 – 12:15 International LOFAR Station Hardware [McKay]

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 14:45 Science with an International LOFAR Station [Greissmeier]

14:45 – 15:30 Observing with an International LOFAR Station [Bourke]

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee

16:00 – 16:45 LOFAR Station Transient Search Backends  [Foster]

16:45 – 17:30 Overview of ILT [Zucca]

19:00 Dinner at the RaddissonBlue Stillorgan.

  • Day 2 (Jan 9): Single station data analysis

09:00 – 10:00 Introduction to Single Station Data Analysis [McKay, Griessmeier, McCauley, Carley]

10:00 – 10:30 Distribution of sample data (dynamic spectra, all-sky maps, etc) and software set up 

10:30 – 11:00 Coffee

11:00 – 12:30 Data analysis talks/tutorials

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 15:30 Data analysis lab

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee

16:00 – 18:00 Data analysis lab

  • Day 3 (Jan 10): Single station data analysis

09:00 – 13:00 Data analysis lab

Workshop Venue

The workshop will be held at University College Dublin (UCD), which is located about 4km south of Dublin city centre.

The meeting venue will be room 2.32 in the School of Physics (Science Centre North, Building 65). Here is a Google map with the meeting venue.

While UCD offers a wifi service without registration, it is quite restricted, and it is strongly recommended that you use eduroam.


There are many other options for accommodation in Dublin so we suggest investigating
using an online service such as

Getting to UCD

From Dublin Airport get the Aircoach route 700 ( The cost of a ticket is €10 single or €16 return. Pickup points are located at Dublin Airport Terminals 1 & 2. Buses run every 15 minutes and take
about 45 minutes to get to UCD.
The UCD drop-off stop is indicated by the blue coach symbol in grid A9 on the UCD Campus Map linked above, while the pickup point for going to the airport is indicated by the blue coach symbol in grid B7.
Note: this service may also be used to get to the hotels listed above- there are stops outside both the Talbot Hotel and RadissonBlu. For the Mespil hotel get of at Leeson Street Bridge and walk along the canal to the hotel.
From Dublin City Centre, UCD is well served by Dublin Bus with service 39a ( entering campus and services 46a ( and 145 ( passing UCD campus and continuing on to also pass the RaddisonBluu and Talbot hotels. The fare is €2.85 and only coins (exact fare, no change given) are accepted as cash payment (a LEAP card may also be purchased).
Further information is available from the UCD website.

Watch the LOFAR TV documentary “13 Billion Light Years From Birr”

We’re delighted to announce that the documentary on LOFAR is now available on the RTE Player and the RTE Player International. This is a documentary where great feats of engineering meet space exploration, where Irish ingenuity from the past meets Irish innovation for the future, to produce a cutting-edge technological adventure film set in rural Ireland. “13,000,000,000 Light Years from Birr” shows how the Irish now unlock some of the universe’s most important secrets.

13 Billion Light Years From Birr follows the construction of the I-LOFAR telescope on the grounds of Birr Castle, which, once completed, will be the most westerly part of a network stretching from Ireland to the town of Bałdy, in eastern Poland, composed of six partner countries and 50 antenna stations spread across the continent.

The network the Irish telescope is now joining will be able to research the origin of the first galaxies, black holes and gas clouds seen at the birth of our universe when the first stars formed – an era beyond the reach of even the biggest optical telescopes. It also opens up the possibility that if there is anybody out there, the first messages may be picked up on an antenna in County Offaly.

Featuring contributions from a stellar cast of Irish and International world of Astronomy.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell – Discoverer of Pulsars, Oxford, UK

Professor George Miley – One of the inventors of LOFAR, Leiden, Netherlands

Professor Peter Gallagher – Head of I-LOFAR, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Professor Mike Garrett – SETI, Jodrell Bank, UK

Professor Anna Scaife – Radio Astronomer, Jodrell Bank, UK

The one hour documentary is made by Midas Productions, and funded by RTÉ and the BAI through the Sound and Vision scheme.

New radio telescope in Birr detects huge solar storms

Dublin, Thursday September 13th, 2017 – The past two weeks have been nothing but stormy for the Sun, and the recently installed LOFAR radio telescope in Birr has been key to helping scientists keep an eye on weather conditions on our stormy stellar neighbour and to forecasting its effects here on Earth.

On September 3, 2017 a huge group of sunspots, many times the size of the Earth, appeared on the surface of the Sun, and have been producing solar storms and spectacular displays of northern lights ever since.

“This sunspot group has unleashed one of the the largest flares in over a decade and one of the biggest in the last 40 years”, according to Professor Peter Gallagher, a solar physicist in the School of Physics at Trinity, “And we detected another whopping solar storm last Sunday, which was moving at about 3,000 km/s and arrived at Earth last night [September 12].”

Solar flares are huge bursts of radiation that can release energies equivalent to billions of hydrogen bombs in several minutes and can be associated with ejections of hot clouds of gas into space at millions of kilometers per hour. While solar storms can produce beautiful displays of the northern lights, they can also cause problems in the communication and navigation systems that we use as part of our every-day lives.

The Irish LOFAR radio telescope at Birr Castle which is being used by scientists to monitor solar storms and their effects on Earth. Credit: Peter Gallagher (TCD).

“The recent solar storms have reportedly caused problems with radio communications systems used by first responders dealing with the fall-out of Hurricane Irma in the US.” says Prof. Gallagher. “We have been using our instruments at Birr Castle to monitor this activity and its effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere and magnetic field.”

Key to monitoring this increased solar activity has been the recently installed Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR) radio telescope at Birr, Co. Offaly.

Research Fellow at Trinity, Dr Diana Morosan, said: “I-LOFAR uses hundreds of sensitive antennae to detect bursts of radio waves from solar flares and solar storms. I-LOFAR is enabling us to observe the Sun with greater accuracy than ever before and therefore to better understand its effects on our planet and on the technologies we depend on every day.”

The top image shows a NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) image of the September 10, 2017 X8.3 flare. A burst of radio waves associated with the flare was observed by I-LOFAR at Birr Castle, while NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope detected a bright flash of high energy X-rays. Credit: Laura Hayes & Peter Gallagher (TCD).

But these are early days for I-LOFAR operations, and as the team learns how to operate the array on its own and as part of the International LOFAR Telescope, we are expecting many new astronomical discoveries from Birr, Co. Offaly.

About I-LOFAR: The Irish LOFAR Telescope is an array of antennas that observes astronomical objects at 10-90 and 110-240 MHz. The I-LOFAR Consortium includes TCD, Armagh, UCD, NUIG, UCC, DCU, DIAS and AIT. I-LOFAR has been supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and was formally switched on by the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan T.D on July 27, 2017. I-LOFAR’s fibre link is sponsored by open eir. Further information on I-LOFAR can be found at

Media Contact: Professor Peter Gallagher,, +353 87 656 8975.

ILOFAR Layout is Rolled Out!

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.

Professor Peter Gallagher made Chevalier by the French Government

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.

Trucking for Science – from the Netherlands with LOFAR

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”.

@ryanomilligan: We’re loaded up! Bit of a change of plans but we’re on the road. Now to make it to Zeebrugge in time for the boat back to Dublin …

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.

You can follow the rest of Ryan’s astronomical haul at @ryanomilligan and @i_lofar.

@ryanomilligan: Today was a welcome respite after the insanity of yesterday during the @I_LOFAR haul. Extended update now available:

RTE News website

A member of the I-LOFAR consortium has won €2 million in funding from the European Research Council to study the birth of stars and planets.

Professor Tom Ray from the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS) won the prestigious Advanced Grant against stiff opposition from all over Europe.

The study will involve furthering Prof’s work in the area of exploring what the Solar System would have looked like 5 billion years ago when it began to form.

The proposal, named “Ejection Accretion Structures in Young Stellar Objects” or EASY will use cutting edge observational instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope, the European low frequency radio telescope LOFAR and the facilities of the European Southern Observatory, to improve our understanding of the complex processes involved.

This money will also be used to pay seven researchers at DIAS.

The organisation said the win was a vindication of its vision of the pursuit of excellence and curiosity-driven research.

“These awards are among the most highly sought after in Europe and are extremely difficult to win,” said Graeme Horley, SFI Programme Manager and ERC National Contact Point.

This article was first published on the RTE News website.