Breakthrough Listen sponsored Summer Internship with I-LOFAR
Would you like to spend the conducting research at a world-class radio telescope located in the beautiful historical setting of Birr Castle Demesne? Are you interested in the quest for a scientific answer to one of humanity’s oldest questions: Are we alone in the Universe?
If so, the I-LOFAR Summer Research Internship with Breakthrough Listen is for you!
Breakthrough Listen (BL) is a world-leading, comprehensive program to search for intelligent life in the Universe. Successful candidates will get an opportunity to participate in conducting experiments with the newly installed instruments at I-LOFAR in collaboration with the BL team. Over the course of 12-weeks, candidates will gain experience in radio astronomy, data analysis, and instrumentation, and will also have the opportunity to take observations with the I-LOFAR telescope and work with the wider LOFAR research team. They will draw on their knowledge of physics, specifically astrophysics and radio astronomy, to engage with a wide range of visitors to the I-LOFAR Education Centre and through online channels.
The successful candidates will be working closely with our I-LOFAR Education and Public Engagement Manager at the I-LOFAR site in Birr Castle Demesne, Co Offaly, and remotely supervised and mentored by Dr Evan Keane, Jodrell Bank, UK, and Dr Vishal Gajjar, Breakthrough Listen, UC Berkeley, USA.
To apply, please send your CV (max 2 pages), a cover letter, a letter of support from your degree course director confirming your registration in the degree and one letter of reference to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line I-LOFAR Research Internship no later than Tuesday 31st of March.
This new addition to the I-LOFAR Summer Internship Programme is made possible thanks to support from Breakthrough Listen. This is open to second and third year undergraduate students registered at Irish third level institutions. Applications will be accepted from students of physics, astrophysics and related disciplines.
NOTE: This position is based at the I-LOFAR Education Centre in Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co Offaly. Interns will be supervised locally by Prof Peter Gallagher, Director of I-LOFAR (email@example.com).
Would you like to spend the summer working at a world-class radio telescope located in the beautiful historical setting of Birr Castle Demesne? Do you want a chance to improve your communication skills and learn how to talk engagingly about the subjects you are passionate about?
If so, the I-LOFAR Summer Internship is for you!
The successful candidates will be working closely with our I-LOFAR Education and Public Engagement Manager at the I-LOFAR site in Birr Castle Demesne, Co Offaly. They will assist in various aspects of the Education and Public Engagement programme, including giving guided tours, designing and facilitating workshops, creating social media and website content, and will also have the opportunity to take observations with the I-LOFAR telescope and work with the wider LOFAR research team. They will draw on their knowledge of physics, specifically astrophysics and radio astronomy, to engage with a wide range of visitors to the I-LOFAR Education Centre and through online channels.
To apply, please send your CV (max 2 pages), a cover letter, a letter of support from your degree course director confirming your registration in the degree and one letter of reference to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday 20th of March.
For any questions or queries about this role, please contact I-LOFAR Education and Public Engagement Manager Áine Flood at email@example.com.
The I-LOFAR Summer Internship Programme is made possible thanks to support from the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme and ESERO Ireland. This is open to second and third year undergraduate students registered at Irish third level institutions. Applications will be accepted from students of physics, astrophysics and related disciplines.
NOTE: This position is based at the I-LOFAR Education Centre in Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co Offaly.
This Guest Blog was written by a local secondary school student in Birr who came to visit I-LOFAR and has plans to study Physics at Third Level.
Hello, I’m Joshua, a sixth-year student of St. Brendan’s Community School Birr. I was recently given the opportunity to avail of a tour of I-LOFAR (the Irish Low Frequency Array). This tour was led by the Head of I-LOFAR, Prof. Peter Gallagher, and the Education and Public Engagement Manager, Áine Flood. On this tour I learned about the fascinating ways in which I-LOFAR works and what it does to broaden the frontiers of science.
What is LOFAR?
At first glance, the above collection of boxes and antennas may not even resemble a simple telescope, never mind being capable of observing the universe as it was billions of years ago. But the Irish Low Frequency Array is a radio telescope. It detects radio waves, which are part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, similar to visible light and x-rays but less energetic and with longer wavelengths. These qualities make it possible for the waves emitted by distant celestial objects to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and reach detectors on the ground. This allows us to efficiently build a vast, terrestrial, virtual telescope, spanning the continent of Europe. LOFAR is composed of 12 international stations (like the one we have in Birr) that are electronically connected to a computing facility in the Netherlands. There the data collected by the individual telescopes are collated to form images of unprecedented quality, making LOFAR one of the most sophisticated pieces of astrophysics research equipment.
How Does LOFAR Work?
Celestial objects such as stars, pulsars (highly magnetised rotating neutron stars), and galaxies emit a variety of radiation types. I-LOFAR is designed to detect two frequency ranges of radio waves, 10-90 megahertz (MHz) and 110-240 MHz. Unfortunately, the frequencies between 90-110 MHz are used to broadcast FM transmissions, so waves of those frequencies from space are drowned out on earth.
The low band antennae (pictured above) consist of four receiving wires and an amplifier. Radio waves are absorbed by the wire and produce a voltage, creating an electrical signal. Each antenna has four receiving wires so that the source of the wave can be determined. All antennas are connected to powerful computers at I-LOFAR, where the collected data is converted into useful information. These computers can be accessed by institutions and researchers across Ireland and also by ASTRON in the Netherlands for International research.
The Research of I-LOFAR
Astronomers across Europe utilise LOFAR’s immense power and range to research a variety of cosmological mysteries. There are however, ‘Key Science Projects’ (KSPs) that LOFAR excels in researching. A few of these KSP’s are as follows:
- The Epoch of Reionisation – A period of the universe’s formation particularly suited to radio exploration.
- All Sky Surveys – The sensitivity and extremely large field-of-view of LOFAR make it an ideal instrument for undertaking deep, large area sky surveys.
- Transient Sources – Objects such as supernovae, pulsars, accreting supermassive blackholes all release enormous amounts of energy along with radio emissions. LOFAR’s capabilities are very much suited to monitoring these phenomena.
As a student of physics, it has been extremely beneficial to see concepts that I only encountered in textbooks being applied in the world in which we live, from simple trigonometry to quantum mechanics. I-LOFAR connects Ireland to the international astronomical community and to the Universe beyond.
As we wrap up our final few days at the Education Centre, its time to tidy up and document everything we’ve done over the last 12 weeks.
Over the summer months we have talked to almost 2000 people from all over the world. Daily tours, weekly space workshops and the IAU 100 exhibit introduced the science and technology of I-LOFAR, and the history of astronomy in Birr and across Ireland, to all of those visitors. Posters and exhibit pieces are being prepared for display in the Centre in the coming days.
In the last few weeks Jane and I have also been busy analysing data from observations using I-LOFAR. (Thanks to Joe McCauley making the observations, as they were very tricky!) Both of us observed pulsars, they are rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit radio waves as jets from their magnetic poles. If these jets are oriented towards Earth correctly, the beam acts like a lighthouse, creating a ‘blip’ in our data. The rotation rates of these stars can therefore be measured very accurately. Pulsars were discovered in 1967 by Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell. Today pulsar research is done right here at I-LOFAR! The pulsars chosen were already discovered, as we wanted to learn how to analyse the data on the new REALTA software installed in the Control Room in 2018. REALTA (Real Time Transient Acquisition Cluster) increased I-LOFAR’s time resolution capabilities, bringing it down to the millisecond region. This means observations of fast rotating pulsars can now be performed.
I observed pulsars B0809+74 and B2217+47. Pulsar B0809 has a 1.29424 second period, while B2217 rotates every 0.53847 seconds. The best data came from B0809, where the pulses could easily be detected from the background noise. The resulting plots are below, the one in the top left corner shows the pulse profile.
Jane observed pulsar J105+5531 which has a period of 0.73968 seconds. This pulsar was also bright in radio and easy to detect, the resulting plots are below. All of our observations were made for ten minutes, plenty of time to detect the pulsars.
Observing with LOFAR was an excellent opportunity and being able to detect pulsars was very exciting! Jane and I gave 40 tours each over the summer, improving our confidence and public speaking skills, as well as our knowledge of the Leviathan, LOFAR and radio astronomy. We would like to sincerely thank Professor Peter Gallagher and Áine Flood for giving us the amazing opportunity to intern at the I-LOFAR Education Centre for the summer.
Blog post written by Jeremy Rigney.
Last week, we set up an exhibition here in Birr for the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) 100th Anniversary. The exhibition is called Above and Beyond: Making Sense of the Universe for 100 Years. It details the major discoveries and events which have shaped astronomy since the IAU was established in 1919. It was launched here in Birr, in John’s Hall, on the evening of Thursday 8th August with some lovely words from Professor Tom Ray of DIAS. It will remain here and in the I-LOFAR Education Centre until Friday 16th August, before travelling onto Dublin with DIAS.
Setting it up was a difficult process at first as there was only myself, Áine and Jeremy to do so, and some of the pieces are very large and awkward. We struggled through the first day alone, but luckily we got some help the next day with a visit from Eileen Flood from DIAS! Eileen and her husband kindly helped us get the last of the exhibition assembled and ready to go. As we set it up, it was a great opportunity to learn about how astronomy developed over the past century and really get a feel for Ireland’s role in this journey.
Since the start of the 20th Century, and indeed even long before that, Ireland has played an active role in discovering more about our Universe. In 1917, the Hooker Telescope in Mount Wilson Observatory, California, USA was constructed. This overtook the Leviathan Telescope here in Birr as the largest optical telescope in the world, with a mirror 2.5m in diameter and allowed for cutting edge astronomy that could view the Universe as it had never been seen before. Previous to this, in the 1840s and 1850s, the Third Earl of Rosse was the first person in the world to view what were known as “spiral nebulae”. Astronomers at the time didn’t know what these nebulae were. Some believed they were small and on the outskirts of our galaxy, the Milky Way, while others thought they were separate galaxies, large and very far away. This new idea, that there were galaxies other than our own, sparked a debate that raged on for decades and anyone who wanted to see these spiral nebulae for themselves, had to come to Birr to do so. Eventually, with the completion of the Hooker Telescope, Edwin Hubble was able to prove that many of these nebulae were much further away than the reach of the Milky Way. This was evidence that they were indeed other galaxies, and the question that started with the Third Earl of Rosse in Birr was settled.
On the 29th May 1919, a total solar eclipse occurred that was used to test Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. The theory predicted that the light coming from stars around the Sun would be deflected due to the mass of the Sun. Two expeditions set out to test this, one led by Eddington and Dyson to an island off the coast of Africa, and another by Irish astronomer Andrew Crommelin to a town called Sobral in Brazil. Not only was one of these expeditions led by Crommelin from Co. Antrim, but the equipment used was Irish made. The Grubb Coelostat reflected light from the sky onto a fixed telescope and the Einstein Lens was used to focus the light onto a photographic plate. These pieces of equipment were both made by Howard Grubb, who was one of the most famous telescope makers in the world, from Rathmines in Dublin. The researchers confirmed that the light was deflected by the amount predicted by Einstein’s theory and Ireland was key to proving Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
In July 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was then a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, detected some irregularities in her data while studying quasars. She had inadvertently discovered pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars that release jets of radiation from their poles. Professor Bell Burnell is from Lurgan in Co. Armagh and her major discovery has led to many developments in our understanding of the universe. Observations of a pulsar in a binary star system were used to confirm the existence of gravitational waves, the first exoplanet was discovered around a pulsar, and some pulsars are better than atomic clocks at keeping time!
Currently, I-LOFAR is located here in Birr and it is part of a european wide network of radio telescope arrays called LOFAR. LOFAR is the largest low frequency radio telescope in the world and once again Ireland is part of cutting edge research – keeping up a long tradition!
Blog post written by Jane Dooley.
Thursday 18th and Saturday 20th of July brought Space Workshops to our Education Centre! Four sessions saw over 60 young people aged 7-14 learn about the moon and our place in the solar system. Topics ranged from the size and scale of the planets, to moon phases and crater creation. The workshops were organised to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and were a great success. Workshops are now running every Friday at 2.30pm in the I-LOFAR Education Centre, starting from last Friday 26th of July, which saw even more young people learning about our place in the universe! The next workshop is on Friday 2nd August and is free for visitors in the castle grounds. Registration at the main reception in the courtyard is recommended.
Also on Saturday July 20th was the Birr Castle Moon Landing Projection on the wall of the Leviathan Telescope. With over 250 people in attendance it was an excellent opportunity to give tours of the history of astronomy at the Demesne. Between four tours Áine, Jane and I spoke to over 150 people, comparing 19th Century engineering at the Leviathan with the 21st Century technology of I-LOFAR. Unfortunately overcast skies meant public observations with the Midlands Astronomy Club optical telescopes were not possible, however the rain held off for the barbecue and projection. A musician set the tone for the evening barbecue in the courtyard, while the recently renovated Science Centre was open for attendees. Mary Field’s dark room, thought to be the oldest intact dark room in the world, now contains her ‘hologram’ speaking about her work as a pioneering photographer in the 1800s. Field was the wife of the Third Earl of Rosse, and they worked as a team to develop the science and engineering history that now exists at the castle. The moon landing projection conveyed the true challenge for the engineers and scientists at NASA to get men to the moon in 1969. President Kennedy’s famous ‘we choose to go to the moon’ speech was shown, along with the launch of the Saturn V rocket, and the moment Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.
Keep an eye out for our next blog about the IAU 100 exhibit coming to Birr!
On Sunday 14th July the I-LOFAR Education team, Áine, Jeremy and I, visited Armagh Observatory and Planetarium to help them set up the International Astronomical Union’s 100th Anniversary Exhibition (IAU100). This exhibition is a journey through some of the most significant and surprising breakthroughs that shaped astronomy, technology and culture over the last century. The exhibition has been travelling around the world and is now here in Ireland for the next few months, starting with Armagh, until the 31st July. After that it is moving onto us here in Birr from Friday 9th to Friday 16th of August and will be displayed in Johns Hall and the I-LOFAR Education Centre. If you can’t make either of those, don’t worry because it will also be going to Dublin, Cork and Galway, so make sure you check it out!
In the early hours of Sunday morning, we began or journey to Armagh and got there just as the team at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) were beginning set up of the part of the IAU100 exhibit that would be displayed at that venue. Luckily, they had experience with some of the other exhibition pieces and it didn’t take too long for us to get all the parts assembled and in place. The exhibit was really beautiful and informative and I would seriously recommend coming along to one of the venues and taking a look!
When it was all finished we were free to explore the planetarium, which had lots of fun things to do and see. After taking in all the beautiful models of satellites and rockets, and taking photos (playing) with the Astronaut props, we went up to the planetarium dome for a viewing of “Beyond the Blue: A Stargazing Journey”. The show was a beautiful guided tour of the night sky from Ireland during the Summer months, and we were able to lie back in our chairs and take in all the stars!
After the movie the director of AOP, Prof. Michael Burton, gave us a tour of their Astropark, built in 1994. They had a scale model of the solar system, and even a scale model of the universe in logarithmic space called the “Hill of Infinity”! There were also many other features, such as a stone circle to see where the sun sets at different times of the year, a human sundial and a human orrery to model the paths of the planets. Then we were told all about the history of Armagh Observatory and shown a handful of the numerous telescopes the Observatory houses.
Armagh Observatory was founded in 1789 by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh and the Planetarium was opened in 1968 through the efforts of Director Eric Lindsay. The observatory was the second to be established in Ireland (the first being Dunsink where we visited the week before) and is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland. It houses a number of old telescopes and observing domes, such as the Troughton Equatorial Telescope and the 15 Inch Grubb Refractor. The oldest telescope in the world still in its original position is in Armagh Observatory! The third director of the Observatory, Thomas Romney Robinson, invented the cup anemometer, used to measure wind speed. He remained director for 59 years and which is a world record for an observatory director that stands today. He was succeeded by J.L.E. Dreyer, who had previously been assistant astronomer at Birr Castle and compiled the “New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars” (or NGC catalogue). It remains to this day the principal catalogue of nebulae and galaxies used by astronomers worldwide.
After the interesting history lesson and tour we headed into Armagh city and got some well-earned food. When we were as full as possible, we had a look at some of the other locations the IAU100 Exhibition is being displayed in around Armagh and then headed for home!
Armagh Observatory and Planetarium was an excellent day out with lots of unique things to do and see, which I would highly recommend. We are now very excited here in Birr for the IAU100 Exhibition to be passed onto us. Make sure you come visit us at Johns Hall and the I-LOFAR Education Centre between 9th and 16th of August. Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival will also be taking place from the 2nd to the 10th of August, so make sure to check it all out!
This week Jane and I are continuing to develop exhibits for the I-LOFAR Education Centre, creating posters and interactive elements to display for the public. Tour numbers have increased as Birr Castle reaches its summer peak, and a large number of people have booked for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing ‘Star-B-Q’ at Birr Castle on Saturday the 20th of July! We’re also currently planning drop in workshops for young people on Thursday the 18th and Saturday the 20th of July.
On Wednesday we visited the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) Astronomy and Astrophysics Department in Fitzwilliam Place in Dublin to attend a talk given by the Director of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), Dr. Sean Dougherty. ALMA is one of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes, located in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The main array consists fifty 12 meter diameter dishes using interferometry (the same technology used in LOFAR) to act as one giant dish. There are another sixteen dishes at the site, four of which are 12 meters in diameter and the remaining twelve with 7 meter diameters. The dishes can be concentrated in a 150 meter area or moved apart to create a baseline of 16 km. They observe the universe in the millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths of light, in search of the formation of galaxies in the early universe and exoplanet formation around distant stars. (LOFAR in comparison observes in meter wavelengths)
After the Director’s talk we visited Dunsink Observatory. The Observatory was constructed in 1785 using money left by the provost of Trinity College Dublin Francis Andrews in his will. It was run for a time by William Rowan Hamilton, the famous mathematician who developed Hamiltonian Mechanics and Quaternions (which are used in 3D Graphics). Many astronomers used the telescope to observe the night skies until Dublin expanded around it and light pollution reduced its visibility. The site was the first in Ireland to be given the title ‘European site of historical significance’ by the European Physical Society in recognition of its history. Today it is run by DIAS and is being refurbished. The large room that once housed the transit circle used to calculate ‘Dunsink Time’ (and hence ‘Dublin time’) now hosts open nights for the public. There are two domes visible at the observatory. The one on the roof of the building housed a smaller telescope said to be used by Hamilton’s students. It is now replaced with a modern refracting telescope. The large ‘South Dome’ on the front lawn houses the original 12 inch refracting telescope. We met some of the summer interns at DIAS who are in the process of creating a museum on the ground floor for the public and they gave us a tour of the incredible artefacts and history within the observatory.