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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
AN IMPORTANT day in the history of Birr Castle took place on Saturday afternoon when a new space observatory was officially launched. This new observatory could be part of something very exciting indeed because it is possible that one day it could detect the existence of extra-terrestrial life. If the project comes to fruition it will also be part of a system which will expand our knowledge of the early evolution of the universe.
The Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory, which will be opened on Saturday, June 28th, will be used to help better understand solar phenomena affecting everyday life on Earth
Details: 3 pm, Saturday, June 28th, 2014 at Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co. Offaly (attending press/photographers are advised to arrive by 2:45 pm to ascend the observatory).
Dublin, June 27th, 2014 – The Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory – a Trinity College Dublin School of Physics teaching and research facility devoted to studying the Sun and its effects on Earth – will be officially opened with a ceremony at Birr Castle Demesne, Co. Offaly, on Saturday June 28th.
The Sun is an enormous ball of hot gas, which keeps our planet hot enough for life to flourish. From time to time though, huge clouds of hot solar gas can be flung into space at hundreds of thousands of kilometres an hour. These ‘solar storms’ can endanger astronauts and cause problems for telecommunications and navigation systems here on Earth.
Scientists will use the observatory and its set of scientific instruments to work out when solar storms erupt from the Sun and when they hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere and magnetic field. Scientists at Trinity have developed the observatory at Birr Castle in the midlands of Ireland to monitor the effervescent Sun’s nearly unpredictable outbursts.
Director of the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory and Associate Professor in Physics at Trinity, Peter Gallagher, said: “We are delighted to reignite scientific research at Birr and to honour one of Ireland’s greatest innovators of the 1800s, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, by naming the observatory for him.”
Trinity has established links with Birr that stretch back over a century and a half. Indeed, the 3rd Earl was Chancellor in 1862–1867, the 4th Earl was Chancellor in 1885–1908 and the 6th Earl was Pro-Chancellor in 1949–1979. The observatory will enable researchers to study the Sun and its effects on the Earth like no other facility in Ireland. A set of antennae will constantly monitor solar activity, while another antenna will monitor solar effects on a layer of the Earth’s upper atmosphere called the ‘ionosphere’. Ionospheric disturbances can cause drop-outs in high-frequency communications with aircraft. An additional instrument, called a magnetometer, which is operated jointly with the Geophysics Section of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, will continuously monitor disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. These ‘geomagnetic storms’ can cause deflections in compasses and surges in electricity power grids.
Professor Gallagher added: “A facility like this will also enable Irish students to gain valuable hands on skills in programming, electronics, antennas, and cutting-edge scientific research at a working observatory. Physics graduates are in great demand in high-tech companies and end up working in a wide range of sectors including IT, finance, engineering, education, which are all areas of particular importance to the development of the smart economy in Ireland.”
The LOFAR Test Array is operational once again in the midlands of Ireland after a short break during which upgrades were made to Rosse Observatory (www.rosseobservatory.ie).
During the weekend of 30th of may – 1st of June, the Solar Physics group in Trinity College conducted LOFAR Observations using a single LOFAR international station located in Chibolton, United Kingdom.
The Sun was fairly quiet at the time with only a couple of Type III radio bursts observed, but the observations also offered the possibility to make full sky maps during the course of an entire day. The movie below shows the evolution of celestial objects in the sky during the course of a day as observed by a single international LOFAR station.
The aim is to build an international LOFAR station in Ireland and perform more of these observations in the future directly from the midlands.