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 www.lofar.ie.

Media Contact: Professor Peter Gallagher, peter.gallagher@tcd.ie, +353 87 656 8975.

Ireland to join leading international astronomy collaboration

Department signs funding agreement to enable Ireland to join Telescope collaboration 

Membership will benefit researchers across a broad area of science and technology [from Astrophysics to ICT] 

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, announced that Ireland will join the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration. The Minister was speaking at Trinity College Dublin at the signing of a funding agreement between the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Trinity College Dublin to enable Ireland to join the collaboration. The agreement was signed on behalf of Trinity College Dublin by the Provost of Trinity College Dublin ,Dr. Patrick Prendergast.

Signing of Ireland’s commitment to join the International LOFAR Telescope. Present were Minister Halligan and Dermot Mulligan from the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation with Provost Paddy Prendergast and Professor Peter Gallagher (I-LOFAR).

The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe. The huge volume of data from all the telescopes is combined using advanced data analytics on a supercomputer in the Netherlands. The network therefore performs like a single, super-telescope of size equivalent to the geographical separation of the constituent telescopes.

The Irish telescope will be located at Birr, Co Offaly adjacent to the historic Leviathan telescope, which was built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and was the largest optical telescope in the world until 1917. The telescope in Birr has been supported with an award of €1.4 million from Science Foundation Ireland and the annual membership fee for LOFAR will be funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Joining LOFAR marks another important milestone in the implementation of Innovation 2020, the national strategy for research and innovation. It will support exciting, world-class scientific research and in addition the data intensive nature of radio astronomy will enhance Ireland’s world-leading capability in big data and data analytics. The skills in software and big data that young researchers will acquire from participation in LOFAR are in high demand in business and will open diverse and high quality career opportunities for them.

Minister John Halligan said “I am delighted that Ireland is joining this pioneering research collaboration in radio astronomy. It is very exciting that researchers across Ireland, both North and South, will now be able to participate in international research on fundamental questions about the origin and structure of the universe. Membership of LOFAR will also increase the engagement of young people with science and inspire our future researcher leaders.”

Dr Prendergast said “Joining the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration will open many new research and funding opportunities for Irish researchers and students in Europe and further afield. Indeed, one of the I-LOFAR team, Tom Ray, a Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Trinity, has recently won a prestigious €2 million Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.”

Professor Gallagher, Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity, said “This is the first time that a research grade radio telescope has been built in Ireland. I-LOFAR will enable Irish researchers to study solar activity and exploding stars, search for new planets, and explore the distant universe in a completely new way. And this will be achieved by developing cutting-edge data analytics techniques on supercomputers here in Ireland and the Netherlands. I-LOFAR really will be a test-bed for big data and data analytics.” 

ENDS

For further information please contact Press Office Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation ph. 6312200 or press.office@djei.ie 

NOTE TO EDITORS

LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) is an international network of state-of-the-art telescopes used to observe the Universe in unprecedented detail at low radio frequencies. LOFAR is one of the largest astrophysics projects in Europe, consisting of 11 international stations spread across Germany, Poland, France, UK, and Sweden, with additional stations and a central hub in The Netherlands, operated by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON). The network uses state-of-the-art data processing and storage systems as well as sophisticated computing techniques to combine the entire network into a telescope with the effective size of the European continent.

I-LOFAR will be the Irish addition to this network and the 12th international station to be built in Europe. It will allow Irish astrophysical research to be integrated into one of the most sophisticated telescopes on the planet. The location of this Irish station will be in the centre of the country on the grounds of Birr Castle, Co. Offaly.

I-LOFAR will be run by a consortium of Irish astrophysicists, computer engineers and data scientists, representing Irish universities and institutes of technologies from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The consortium is led by Trinity College Dublin, with partners from University College Dublin, Dublin City University, Athlone Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland Galway, University College Cork, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and Armagh Observatory & Planetarium.

This facility will allow Irish researchers and students access to a facility involved in some of the most ground-breaking and advanced research projects in modern astronomy, including projects in big-bang cosmology, deep extragalactic surveys, cosmic magnetism, cosmic rays, solar physics and space weather.

Further information on I-LOFAR and its research programme is available at lofar.ie

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.