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: https://youtu.be/jO5KaA4F5KE

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.

 

 

Gravitational Waves Detected from Black Hole Merger

Today was a momentous day for physicists, who have finally detected gravitational waves and verified Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The evidence is all in the figure below which shows signals of gravitational waves detected by the two LIGO Observatories. The signals came from two merging black holes 1.3 billion light-years away. The top two plots show data received at each detector, along with waveforms predicted by general relativity. The LIGO data match the predictions very closely. The final plot compares data from both facilities, confirming the detection.
Theorist predict that a mass equivalent to three solar masses was converted to gravitational waves in a fraction of a second — 50 times the power of the entire Universe! A new era of astronomy opens! Further information can be found at the Science Daily Website.
In Ireland, a consortium of universities are now building a radio telescope called LOFAR at Birr Castle which will play a vital role in testing Einstein’s theories of gravity using observations of black holes and the large-scale structure of the Universe.

Trinity Solar Physics Feature on Cover of Leading International Journal

Research from the School of Physics has been featured on the front cover of a leading European scientific journal, Astronomy & Astrophysics. Trinity graduate student Ms. Diana Morosan and her supervisor Prof. Peter Gallagher used observations of the Sun from the International Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) to study very short pulses of radio waves from the solar atmosphere. These radio bursts have been imaged for the first time by LOFAR and the results of their study have been published in a paper which featured in the August edition of Astronomy & Astrophysics. These bursts are less than 1 second long which made it challenging for previous radio telescopes to determine their location. These observations show the true potential of LOFAR in advancing the study of radio emission coming from the Sun.

I-LOFAR in Government’s Midlands Action Plan for Jobs

On June 29, 2015 the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, announced the “Action Plan for Jobs: Midland Region 2015-2017“. We were delighted that I-LOFAR has been included in the plan in a prominent way. This is a significant step forward for the project, thanks to the efforts of Denis Duggan (Enterprise Ireland). 

The following is from the Action Plan. 

At the time of finalisation of this Action Plan, there were a number of emerging projects with potential for job creation and enterprise opportunity in the region in the future. These project require further development by the promoters and are medium-term in timescale. Progress on these projects will be kept under review over the lifetime of the Action Plan.

The establishment of a next-generation radio telescope in Birr was identified in consultations with stakeholders as holding potential for the creation of a research and data analytics hub in the Midlands.

LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) is a next-generation radio telescope that is currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and the UK at an investment of €150 million.

I-LOFAR refers to a proposal by a consortium of Irish universities and Research Institutes (which includes Athlone Institute of Technology and is led by Trinity College Dublin) to build and operate an Irish LOFAR radio telescope at Birr Castle which will connect Ireland into the International LOFAR telescope and sensor network.

Birr Castle Demense & Gardens is the site of preference of the Irish consortium, as Birr has little radio interference, making it ideal for radio astronomy. Birr Castle Demense & Gardens has an existing Science Visitor Centre and is internationally recognized for its tradition in astronomy. The plan is to facilitate the development of the iLOFAR on a 6 acre site in the Demesne & Gardens.

The local availability of a fibre network (MAN, or Metropolitan Area Network) makes data-transport at high rates suitable for radio astronomy a possibility. I-LOFAR will use approximately 30% of a 10 Gbps fibre connection to Birr. Internet providers will be able to use the remainder to provide high-speed broadband to users on the Birr MAN and companies at the Birr Technology Centre, for example. The data acquired by the telescope will generate daily a volume of data on par to Ireland’s total daily internet traffic. The facility has the potential to provide the data resources for data analysis on a scale not currently possible in Ireland.

From an enterprise and jobs perspective, locating this infrastructure in the Midlands would:

  • Act as a magnet to attract data analytic companies and create a cluster of data start-ups in the region and the Midlands Innovation and Research Centre in AIT and enhance the capabilities of the research institutes based at AIT, including the Software Research Institute.
  • Attract additional tourists into the Midland Region with the development of an I-LOFAR visitor centre for tourists and students, which will overlook the radio telescope.
  • Create better links between the Midland Region and multinationals.
  • Provide a platform for educational outreach STEM subjects for students of all ages.
  • Attract further R&D activities and funding (e.g., from Horizon 2020) to the Midland Region. 

Irish Astronomer Searching for Exoplanets using LOFAR

An international team of scientists lead by Irish astronomer Dr. Eamon O’Gorman have been awarded 32 hours of observing time with the international LOFAR array to search for radio waves from planets orbiting other stars. It is believed that billions of these so-called ‘exoplanets’ exist in our galaxy alone, and Dr O’Gorman is confident that some of them can be detected at radio wavelengths with LOFAR.

Dr O’Gorman said, “In our own solar system, Jupiter can outshine the Sun at certain radio wavelengths. We predict that some massive exoplanets should be detectable with LOFAR thanks to its groundbreaking and unparalleled sensitivity. Detecting exoplanets at radio wavelengths would not only open the door to a whole new method of their detection, but would also allow us to study their magnetic fields, composition, and how fast they rotate.”

Dr O’Gorman also explained that the proposed I-LOFAR telescope at Birr castle would be revolutionary for both the Irish astrophysics community and the entire LOFAR member states across Europe. “I-LOFAR will increase the overall sensitivity of the array and will enable us to see finer details. It will certainly improve our chances of finding these faint radio signals from other worlds. It is exciting to think that we are now close to having the capabilities of studying exoplanets from Ireland.”

Sunspotter Workshops for the Midlands Science Festival

Several Sunspotter workshops took place in a number of Midlands schools this week as part of the Midlands Science Festival..

Aine Flood, Pietro Zucca and Peter Gallagher of the Citizen Science Alliance at Trinity College explained……

‘Our job at the Solar and Space Weather Group in Trinity is to use data from ESA and NASA satellites to understand the Sun and how it effects us here on Earth. We also run the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory in Birr (www.rosseobservatory.ie), which is equipped with antennas and other instrument to continuously monitor solar activity and its impacts on the Earth’s magnetic field. We are particularly interested in forecasting solar flares and solar mass ejections, which can produce the northern and southern lights and cause problems in telecommunication and GPS systems.’ Peter Gallagher, Head of the Solar and Space Weather Group

Aine, what is the Citizen Science Alliance?

The Citizen Science Alliance is a collection of many scientists, software developers and educators from all over the world who work together on internet based projects to improve their research as well as other peoples understanding of both the science and how scientific work is done. They invite everyone to become a citizen scientist by collaborating with them online and offering their time and skills to help sort through large collections of data.

Why is public engagement important for this project to succeed?

The public are our collaborators for this project and all the others in the Zooniverse collection. Without the public offering their time and energy to help classify the sunspots we wouldn’t have a project! It’s really important for us to engage with the public and tell them how much they are helping real scientific research by participating in SunSpotter. This is an Irish based project, thought up and created by solar physics researchers in Trinity College Dublin. Our team uses the results to help forecast solar weather which affects a lot of things here on Earth such as radio communications, contact with orbiting satellites, and of course any astronauts in space need to know if a solar storm is about to strike.

What can we do to ensure we encourage the next generation consider science as a career?

The more scientists that talk to young people about their work, what they do and why they do it, the clearer it is that science is a fascinating and important part of all our lives. Some people, especially children are always asking questions, trying to figure out how things work and wondering why everything happens as it does. Science strives to answer these questions. Our understanding of the world around us, and indeed the whole universe, has improved greatly due to answers we have found through scientific research and observation. But one of the best things about science is that often these answers lead to even more questions. We don’t know everything, there’s still lots to discover!

Are you looking forward to being involved in the Midlands Science Week and why are events like this important for Science promotion?

Yes, we are really looking forward to it! We are delighted to be involved with the team at the Midlands Science Festival. Events like this encourage people to get more involved with spreading science. Whether you want to have a chat about it at an evening talk or get ‘hands on’ and learn something new at a workshop there’s something for all ages and interests. These events also give scientists an opportunity and platform to engage with an interested public and tell them why their research matters. This clear dialogue is essential for better understanding and appreciation of science.

If you wish to learn more please see www.sunspotter.org

Radio Bursts from the Sun Imaged using LOFAR

The Solar Physics Group at TCD are excited to report that they have made radio images of bursts of radio waves from the Sun using LOFAR. The Sun is far from a quiet star and from time to time throws out huge explosions of hot gas into space. These explosions can accelerate electrons to fractions of the speed of light and it is these tiny electrons that emit radio waves on their way though interplanetary space. These radio waves can be detected by radio telescopes as bursts of radiation.

 

Now, a team at TCD lead by Prof. Peter Gallagher, have managed to image these bursts for the first time using the international Low Frequency Array (LOFAR). These bursts were found to originate even at times of low solar activity at other wavelengths.

“The Sun is a ever-changing and we have used LOFAR to look for the exact places on the Sun where electrons are accelerated by tracking radio waves coming from the Sun”, according to TCD graduate student, Diana Morosan, who was first author on a recent paper on this topic in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “These results are key to understanding how electrons can be accelerated in the solar atmosphere and on other stars in the Universe.”

The article can be read here.