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:

Trinity Week & codify&Birr!!!!!

Week 8:


Started with editing the new I-LOFAR website, by adding in consortium, and also adding in my blog posts.

I then moved onto POLOFAR data analysis as I am looking at a type 1 storm, and observing its intensity.

Aoife then gave me her education section she had written, so I can add it to the education section of the I-LOFAR website.

I then had a meeting with Alan (web designer), and Eoin (Post Doctorate), about the finalization of the website, which was set live at 18:40.

I then attended my last codify class today where I worked on POLOFAR data. Codify is an amazing workshop for anyone how is new to programming and even people who are pros at programming but want to improve there basic skills.

Trinity Week.


I started with editing the news section of the web page, where I added hyperlinks. Then I moved onto adding images to the gallery of the I-LOFAR website.


I went to Birr with Prof. Peter Gallagher, Joe McCauley, Dr. Eoin Carley, and Aoife Ryan (PhD Student). We started our day at Birr down by the I-LOFAR site where we looked at the progress made on the site since we last seen it, and it has moved along very well and they are ahead of schedule for the deliveries that will be coming in on the 28th of April. Eoin then fixed the computer in the Lord Rosse Observatory so we can now see the data again. Then myself, Peter, and Aoife went to speak to Lord Rosse and his daughter (Lady Alicia Parsons) and the site manager (Grainne), about the plans for the education centre which will be just off the site of I-LOFAR, which everyone loved, which was great!!!! Then we all went to the house we will be staying in during the summer while building I-LOFAR; as we needed to make sure it would fit the twenty of us that will be on site; which it does, it is a beautiful house and there grounds of where it is set is stunning, so, lots of pictures of the grounds will be seen in this blog during the summer.

Site of I-LOFAR.

These are the beautiful grounds of Birr, the bottom picture is of the Great Telescope on the beautiful Birr castle grounds.


Started my day with adding images of yesterday trip of I-LOFAR construction site into the new I-LOFAR website gallery (don’t forget to check it out).

I then continued analyzing the POLOFAR station data.

I hope everyone has an amazing Easter!!!!

International LOFAR Stations

International LOFAR Telescope

The International LOFAR Telescope consists of many LOFAR stations that radiate from the Netherlands and which will soon stretch from Ireland to Poland. The longest baseline stretches about 1,900 km, making it possible to produce high resolution images at low radio frequencies (~0.1 arcsecond at 200 MHz).

Solar Radio Burst

Toothbrush Galaxy Cluster

Galactic Star Formation

Gas clouds of hydrogen and formation of massive stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. This image was obtained using LOFAR’s High Band Antennas. From Glenn White (Open University/Rutherford Appleton Laboratories).

The Radio Whirlpool Galaxy

LOFAR was used to make images of the Whirlpool Galaxy, a large spiral galaxy first sketched by the 3rd Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle. This images was created by another Irish astronomer, David Mulcahy at the University of Manchester. You can find out on this from their press release.

Magnetic Structures in the Milky Way

While trying to observe the structure of the early Universe, astronomers at the University of Groningen found that our Galaxy has a spaghetti like structure when it comes to its magnetic field. Read more in their press release.