Blog 2 – Observing, Camps and Exhibits

This week Jeremy and I have been finalising preparations for Space Camp 2019, a summer camp for 8-12 year olds run by I-LOFAR and Birr Castle. It will take place over four days from the 15th to the 18th of July and we are really looking forward to it! This has involved lots of arts and crafts, like making planets out of balloons and rice, and cutting up cardboard to make models of the Earth-Sun-Moon orbit. It makes us feel like big children!


Planets made from rice and balloons!


We have also been planning exhibit pieces to be displayed in the Education Centre here at I-LOFAR to showcase what we do and how radio astronomy works. These include topics such as RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), the electromagnetic (EM) and atmospheric absorption spectrums, and the Drake Equation


RFI in radio astronomy is any source of transmission that is within the observed frequency band, other than the celestial sources being observed. Signals from Earth can be much stronger that the signals of interest as they are so much closer, so RFI is a major issue when performing radio astronomy. RFI can be caused by a number of things, like manmade transmitters or natural phenomena such as lightning. To be able to able to observe with LOFAR at high sensitivities, RFI needs to be accurately detected.


The EM spectrum is the range of frequencies and wavelengths of EM radiation. The radio section of the EM spectrum encompasses a much wider range of wavelengths than the visible, and those are the only two types of EM waves that can pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. This means the only types of astronomy that can be conducted from the ground are radio and optical. Others such as x-ray and gamma ray astronomy have to be performed high up the mountains or in space. You could say that LOFAR is very down to Earth! 


The Drake Equation estimates the number of technological civilisations that may exist in our galaxy. There is no unique solution to this equation, but it summarises the concepts which must be considered when questioning the existence of communicative extraterrestrial life. I-LOFAR may be used to assist in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in collaboration with the Breakthrough Listen foundation


This week Jeremy and I got to make observations with I-LOFAR! I was able to observe the Crab Pulsar for 10 minutes and Jeremy looked at two bright millisecond pulsars. We used the new REALTA (REALtime Transient Acquisition Cluster) system, which gives us millisecond time resolution in our observations. We are looking forward to analysing this data in the coming weeks, hopefully we’ll be able to detect the pulses! 


Of course, we are still giving daily astronomy tours from the Leviathan to I-LOFAR and these have been getting quite busy! It’s great to see so many people interested and asking questions. We also had a few canine visitors to add our #DogsofILOFAR, keep an eye out on our Twitter and Instagram for pictures! We have added an extra tour on Saturdays. They now take place at 13:30 Monday -Friday, and at 12:00 and 15:00 Saturday! 


Next Wednesday we will be visiting DIAS and Dunsink observatory in Dublin, we are really excited! Make sure to check back next week for our blog post about this. 


Blog post written by Jane, you can find her on Twitter @JaneDooley98. Jeremy is also on twitter, find him @jeremy.rigney