LOFAR Array and Visitor Centre Awarded Planning Permission

We are delighted to announce that Offaly County Council has been awarded planning permission for the LOFAR radio telescope array and visitor centre in Birr Castle Demesne.

The team will now focus their efforts on raising additional funds to make the project happen. To date, the Irish LOFAR team has raised over EUR 200k from Dermot Desmond, Denis O’Brien and has received continuous support from the CTO and Founder of Openet Ltd, Joe Hogan.
“This is an important step for the I-LOFAR project,” according to Prof. Peter Gallagher who leads the I-LOFAR consortium. “We now need to raise about EUR 1 million to purchase a LOFAR radio telescope and install it in Birr. Its an exciting project for Ireland and the midlands, that will bring us into a EUR 150 million international science project.”
The I-LOFAR project will enable Irish scientists to engage in the largest international science project that Ireland has ever engaged in, and in addition, the project will inspire students to study science, engineering and computer science, and bring additional tourists into the Birr area.

LOFAR to bring cutting-edge network of radio telescopes to Ireland

Dublin, June 6, 2013: Irish astronomers launch campaign to build a “cutting edge” LOFAR radio telescope in Birr Castle Demesne and to connect Ireland to a leading European network of radio telescopes.

To coincide with the European Space Expo’s visit to Trinity College Dublin in June, the Irish LOFAR radio telescope consortium hosted a reception to formally launch a drive to raise funds to build a LOFAR radio telescope in Birr Castle Demesne.

The proceedings – hosted by Irish TV presenter Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain, who was an ´ambassador´ for the Dublin City of Science 2012 – is part of a week-long visit to TCD by the spectacular European Space Expo during the Irish Presidency of the EU.

Prof Peter Gallagher, who leads the Irish LOFAR radio telescope team, explained the importance of the EU-wide initiative for Ireland.

He said, “I-LOFAR will benefit Ireland in various ways.” “An Irish LOFAR station will connect Ireland to a cutting-edge network of radio telescopes that has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the universe.”

At an estimated cost of 1.5m euros the aim is to build an Irish LOFAR station, connecting it to the 150m euros international LOFAR telescope network which is already deployed across Europe.

The I-LOFAR would be located in Birr Castle, near the 3rd Earl of Rosse’s Leviathan telescope, which was the largest optical telescope in the world from the mid-1800s to 1920s.

Prof Gallagher adds, “I-LOFAR will fascinate students and inspire them to study science, engineering and mathematics at college. Producing graduates with these skills is key to Ireland’s economic recovery and the developing a smart sustainable economy. Large-scale science projects such as LOFAR are key to capturing students’ imaginations.”

He points out that LOFAR is also a “stepping stone” to the mega science project “Square Kilometre Array” (SKA) as well as the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP).

An Irish LOFAR station will, he says, enable Irish universities and companies to become “engaged” in SKA and also the developing capacity for radio astronomy in South Africa.

Dr Gallagher said an Irish station would produce “vast quantities” of data and, when operational, would be the biggest source of “big data” in the country.

He said it is expected to bring significant economic benefits, adding, “I-LOFAR will draw attention to the area as a location for technology companies and attract additional tourists into the region.”

I-LOFAR Presentation at Birr Town Council

Thanks to Michael Loughnann, Chairman of Birr Town Council, and Denis Duggan of Shannon Development Agency for organising a lovely evening all about I-LOFAR in Birr. Peter Gallagher, the I-LOFAR consortium head, gave a presentation on the project to around 40 people, which included local business owners, teachers, and town councillors, who all seemed to meet the I-LOFAR project with great enthusiasm and interest.

Many were interested in the development it will bring to the local IT and broadband infrastructure, and the impact it will have on tourism and the local economy. There was huge interest on what I-LOFAR will mean to schools, both locally and all over the country. A number commented on it’s potential as a national landmark for school science tours and day-trips, where children can come to see a state of the art scientific facility in the midlands of Ireland, and learn about the engineering and science involved in the project.

It was great to see such interest from the Birr residents, and also fantastic to hear numerous ideas of how to progress  to building a LOFAR station in Birr in the near future. Thank again to the Council and SDA!

Peter’s presentation can be downloaded from figshare.com.

First Solar Radio Burst Observed by I-LOFAR Test Array!

The I-LOFAR test array of four Low Band Antennas (LBAs) hooked up to two low cost e-Callisto receivers was installed at Birr Castle Demesne on April 18 and 19, 2013. As luck (of the Irish?) would have it, the test array picked up a number of Type III radio bursts on April 22, which were associated with a very impulsive M-class flare in sunspot group NOAA 11726 These are shown in the figure above, together with X-ray data from NOAA’s GOES satellite.

Solar radio bursts come in lots of different forms, ranging from long-duration broadband Type IV storms from electrons in large post-eruption coronal loops, to highly impulsive Type III bursts from near-relativistic electrons streaming along open magnetic field lines. The latter are associated with periods of elevated solar activate, when solar flares and coronal mass ejections are being produced by the Sun.

Unfortunately the Sun has been very quiet in recent times, so you can imagine how happy we were when only three days after installing the Birr test array, a solar flare occurred. And what’s more, a nice clear set of slightly polarised Type III bursts were picked up by the array – proof that the array is working and that Birr Castle is a great site for an International LOFAR Station!

I-LOFAR Test Array Installed at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly

The I-LOFAR test array consists of 4 Low Band Antenna (LBA) elements which were installed at Rosse Observatory (www.rosseobservatory.ie) in Birr, Co. Offaly. The I-LOFAR test array will test the capabilities of the LBA antenna elements individually and also linked together. The site seen in the photograph has a great view of the southern sky and also extremely low radio frequency interference which makes it ideal for the construction of the I-LOFAR station on the ground of Birr Castle.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Inaugurated as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the discoverer of ‘pulsars’, was recently inaugurated as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin. As a research student in Cambridge in 1967, she detected unusual radio pulses coming from beyond the solar system and helped identify the pulses as emanating from rapidly spinning, super-dense, collapsed stars, subsequently named ‘pulsars’. Her landmark detections were made using a low frequency radio telescope similar to LOFAR.

Super-Massive Black Hole

Astronomers have produced one of the best images ever made at the lowest frequencies of giant bubbles produce by super-massive black holes. Click on the following image for the full article:

Ground Planes

The ground planes for the LBA Test Array arrived at Birr Castle and were placed on the site roughly were the LBA’s will be located. The ground planes are 3 x 3 metres in dimensions with a spacing of 15 cm and serve as a reflector for low frequency radio waves.

I-LOFAR Test Array Site

The following site was chosen to host the four LOFAR LBA antenna elements which will be set up and texted starting from January 2013. The site is located in the Rosse Observatory in Birr, Co. Offaly (www.rosseobservatory.ie). The I-LOFAR test array will test the capabilities of the LBA antenna elements individually and also linked together. The site has a great view of the southern sky and it is large enough to contain four 3 metres x 3 metres LBA antennas.