Summer Astronomy Tours in Birr

As part our AstroLands programme we are offering FREE guided tours throughout the summer for all visitors to Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre.

For the month of June these walking tours will run Tuesday to Saturday at 13:30 from the Leviathan to I-LOFAR, with daily tours from Monday to Saturday throughout July and August. Suitable for all ages and interest levels, the tour will cover the rich history of science, engineering and astronomy in Birr to the present day research happening here in the Midlands with I-LOFAR.

All welcome!



Any queries please contact

Launch of I-LOFAR Education Centre & AstroLands Education Programme

Trinity College Dublin, Birr Scientific & Heritage Foundation, and Offaly County Council announce the opening of the I-LOFAR Education Centre and launch of the Astronomical Midlands Schools and Public Engagement Programme, with very special guest Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, on Thursday the 30thof May.

Astronomical Midlands, which has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, uses the recently refurbished I-LOFAR Education Centre at Birr Castle to connect with students, teachers and members of the public in rural communities in the Midlands. The refurbishment of the Education Centre has been supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht and Offaly County Council.

Áine Flood and Peter Gallagher from the I-LOFAR project together with Margie McCarthy (SFI) and Minister John Halligan.

Speaking about the event, Head of I-LOFAR, Professor Peter Gallagher says:

“Astronomical Midlands or AstroLands for short, will open new conversations with groups that have had little involvement with STEM using this unique new facility at Birr. This is a wonderful opportunity to carry forward the rich scientific heritage of Birr, allowing people in the Midlands to discover opportunities for further education and careers in STEM and inspire the next generation of scientific explorers.”

Funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Programme and the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO), Astronomical Midlands will embark on three key initiatives:

  • Space4Exploration: Create an engaging, inspirational and multi-use space in the I-LOFAR Education Centre.
  • Space4Students: Launch day-long and week-long space camps at the Education Centre that run during school term and school holidays for students aged 10 to 14.
  • Space4Teachers: Create CPD workshops for upper primary and lower secondary school teachers based around the National Junior Certificate themes of Earth and Space.

Secondary school students learning about astronomy at the I-LOFAR Education Centre.

The Irish LOFAR Consortium is proud to continue the rich heritage in astronomy at Birr Castle, taking Irish astrophysics from its pioneering days in the 18th century to the current state-of-the-art in the 21st century. The I-LOFAR Education Centre will complement the existing Science Visitor Centre at Birr Castle, which tells the story of past Irish achievements in science. The I-LOFAR Education Centre will provide an inspirational location for education workshops, and community-based STEM projects, such as CoderDojo. It will be equipped with a 3D video globe, a large video wall, numerous interactive flat screen displays, and a LOFAR radio telescope network activity wall.

The I-LOFAR Education Centre is being developed in partnership with Offaly County Council and has been supported by a grant from Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’s Rural Economic Development Zones (REDZ).

Notes for editors

  • Professor Peter Gallagher is available for interview ( ; +353 87 656 8975).
  • Dependent on schedule, the inspirational Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967, may be available for interview. In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.
  • The I-LOFAR radio telescope was primarily funded by Science Foundation Ireland, while membership of the International LOFAR Telescope is supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

For further information please contact:

Niamh O’Carroll, niamh@ocarrollconsulting.comor, +353 87 6286171

Astronomers Publish New Map of the Sky Detecting Thousands of Previously Unknown Galaxies

– Team includes researchers from University College Dublin

– Data from I-LOFAR telescope in Birr, Co. Offaly used as part of the survey project

An international team of more than 200 astronomers from 18 countries, including researchers from University College Dublin (UCD), has today published the first phase of a major new sky survey at unprecedented sensitivity using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope.

The survey reveals hundreds of thousands of previously undetected galaxies, shedding new light on many research areas including the physics of black holes and how clusters of galaxies evolve.

A special issue of the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics is dedicated to the first twenty-six research papers describing the survey and its first results.

Radio astronomy reveals processes in the Universe that we cannot see with optical instruments. In this first part of the sky survey, LOFAR observed a quarter of the northern hemisphere at low radio frequencies. At this point, approximately ten percent of that data is now being made public. It maps three hundred thousand sources, almost all of which are galaxies in the distant Universe; their radio signals have travelled billions of light years before reaching Earth.

Associate Professor John Quinn, UCD School of Physics and his PhD student, Sean Mooney, who is supported through an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship, are members of the LOFAR surveys key science project.

They are lead authors on one of the papers published today and contributed to several others. Their paper is focused on the jets from supermassive black holes that are pointed towards the Earth.

Professor Huub Röttgering, Leiden University, and principal investigator of the surveys team said, “If we take a radio telescope and we look up at the sky, we see mainly emission from the immediate environment of massive black holes. With LOFAR we hope to answer the fascinating question: where do those black holes come from?”

“What we do know is that black holes are pretty messy eaters. When gas falls onto them they emit jets of material that can be seen at radio wavelengths.”

Associate Professor John Quinn, UCD School of Physics said, “The LOFAR survey provides us with an unprecedented view of galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centers, and how they evolve. The sensitivity and resolution of this LOFAR survey is unparalleled at low frequencies, and the technological advancements required to make this possible are relatively recent.”

Sean Mooney, PhD student, UCD School of Physics said, “We’re interested in studying high-speed jets of plasma that are ejected from supermassive black holes, and the survey is a goldmine of information for us. Now that the data are public, it will surely prove to be a useful resource for many other astrophysicists around the world also.”

Find out more via this short video via ASTRON

Creating low-frequency radio sky maps requires significant computational resources. Much of the analysis has been done at a data centre at SURFsara in Amsterdam, which hosts over 20,000 terabytes of LOFAR data.

“It is the largest astronomical data collection in the world. Processing the enormous data sets is a huge challenge for scientists. What normally would have taken centuries on a regular computer was processed in less than one year using the high throughput compute cluster (Grid) and expertise”, said Dr Raymond Oonk, SURFsara, a member of the international team of researchers.

Machine learning algorithms are being used to automate parts of the analysis, with some of this work being done at UCD on powerful computing clusters.

The international LOFAR telescope consists of a European network of radio antennas, connected by a high-speed fibre-optic network spanning seven countries. LOFAR was designed, built and is now operated by ASTRON (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy), with its core located in Exloo in the Netherlands.

The Irish station was installed in the grounds of Birr Castle, Co. Offaly in 2017, with support from Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Offaly County Council, the Department of Culture, Heritage, and Gaeltacht, UCD, TCD, Armagh Observatory, DCU, UCC, NUIG, DIAS, and AIT.

The 26 research papers in the special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics were done with only the first two percent of the sky survey. The team aims to make sensitive high-resolution images of the whole northern sky, which will reveal 15 million radio sources in total.

“This sky map will be a wonderful scientific legacy for the future. It is a testimony to the designers of LOFAR that this telescope performs so well”, said Carole Jackson, Director General of ASTRON.

“Just imagine some of the discoveries we may make along the way. I certainly look forward to it”, she added.

The special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics is titled LOFAR Surveys.

The paper which Sean Mooney and Associate Professor John Quinn are lead authors is entitled Blazars in the LOFAR Two-Metre Sky Survey First Data Release.

Latest All Sky Images with I-LOFAR

The latest all sky images observed by I-LOFAR show the radio sky above Birr during the day in amazing detail yet again. The images below were recorded and created by undergrad student David McKenna from Trinity College Dublin using code developed during his final year project.

Each image is taken at different times from the observation where astrophysical objects are at their highest in the sky. Included here are Cassiopeia A, the Milky Way and, the North Galactic Spur.  This video shows the entire observation from 20:00 GMT on February 5th to 08:00 GMT on February 6th at 30MHz.

The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, the brightest source I-LOFAR can see. Watch video

Our galaxy, the Milky Way stretching across the radio sky. Watch video

The North Galctic Spur, a part of the Milky Way projecting towards the north galactic pole. Watch video

LOFAR Radio Telescope Reveals Secrets of Solar Storms

Dublin, Ireland, February 18, 2019: An international team of scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Helsinki, and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies today announced a major discovery on the nature of solar storms in the journal Nature Astronomy (PDF available at Springer Nature SharedIt).

The Sun is the closest star to our planet in the Universe, and like many stars, it is far from quiet. Sunspots, many times the size of Earth, can appear on its surface and store enormous reservoirs of energy. And it is within these regions that huge explosions called solar storms occur.

Solar storms are spectacular eruptions of billions of tonnes of hot gas travelling at millions of kilometres an hour. If they impact the Earth, they can produce beautiful displays of the aurora, but they can also cause problems with communication and navigation systems and power grids.  

In 1859, the largest solar storm ever observed – the so-called Carrington Event – erupted. Within hours, it generated displays of the aurora as far south as Italy and Cuba and caused interruptions in early telegraph systems in Europe and the US. In Ireland, it reportedly stopped London stock market prices being received in Dublin “due to a strange atmospheric phenomenon”.

Image of a solar flare observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on September 10, 2017. Credit: NASA/SDO. Print resolution available from NASA SVS.

Our society is now even more dependent on technology, and solar storms have the potential to cause significant effect on their performance. In 2003, transformers in South Africa were damaged, while Swedish air traffic control systems were closed down in 2015 for more than an hour due to effects associated with a solar storm. More recently, emergency response communications were interrupted during hurricane season in September 2017 in the Caribbean.

“We used data from the Low Frequency Array, LOFAR, together with images from NASA, NOAA and ESA spacecraft to work out where particles are accelerated by the particularly large solar storm on September 10, 2017, soon after we turned on the Irish LOFAR station”, said Dr Diana Morosan, the lead author on the publication, and affiliated with Trinity and the University of Helsinki.

The Irish LOFAR radio telescope at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Ireland. Credit: Alison Delaney, Birr Castle. Print resolution:

“We built the Irish LOFAR station at Birr Castle to study how solar storms move and how they generate bursts of radio waves”, according to Professor Peter Gallagher of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, who leads the I-LOFAR project on behalf of Trinity. “We used I-LOFAR to detect tiny radio bursts in coordination with the LOFAR core in the Netherlands to work out where the burst were coming from.”

“Our observations enabled us to work out that the solar storm created a huge shock wave as it erupted from the Sun, which then accelerated electrons that generated radio bursts. This gives us an amazingly detailed insight into how solar storms work, and may in the future help us to produce more accurate forecasts of when solar radio bursts occur and how they impact the Earth”, said Dr Morosan.

The Sun and a radio burst captured in September 2017 by the NOAA GOES spacecraft and the LOFAR radio telescope. Credit: NOAA, LOFAR. Print resolution version:

Speaking about the research, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Less than two years ago we officially launched the I-LOFAR radio telescope at Birr Castle, and it is fantastic to see the fascinating breakthroughs it has already made possible. It demonstrates the tangible rewards that arise from investing in cutting-edge infrastructure which facilitates collaborations between researchers and leads to exciting discoveries. I wish to congratulate the individuals from Trinity College Dublin, DIAS and University of Helsinki for their impressive work on solar storms, and I am confident that their future work with I-LOFAR will continue to provide us with invaluable insights.”

“These excellent results from I-LOFAR demonstrate the quality of the site in Ireland and the benefits of international collaboration in research and innovation. I am delighted to see such a return from the Government funding for I-LOFAR.” Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan T.D.

I-LOFAR is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Department of Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Access to PDF of the Nature Astronomy Publication

A PDF of the Nature Astronomy publication can be accessed free-of-charge at Springer Nature SharedIt.

Additional Notes

I-LOFAR is owned and operated at Birr Castle by Trinity College Dublin on behalf of the I-LOFAR Consortium, which includes Trinity College Dublin, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, University College Dublin, University College Cork, National University of Ireland, Galway, and Athlone Institute of Technology.

The I-LOFAR fibre link is sponsored by open eir.

Media Contacts

Head of Irish LOFAR Consortium:

Professor Peter Gallagher

Trinity College Dublin and Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

+353 87 656 8975

Lead author on Nature Astronomy paper:

Dr Diana Morosan

Trinity College Dublin and University of Helsinki

+358 50 317 5827

LOFAR Minecraft – LOFAR Enters the Virtual Universe

LOFAR Minecraft

Fionn (11) and Luke (8) Teeling-Gallagher have been busy building an international LOFAR radio telescope in Minecraft. Click on the movie above to learn all about how it works. 

The Astronomical Midlands: Engaging Rural Communities with Astronomy

We are delighted to launch a new engagement project in 2019 – the Astronomical Midlands or AstroLands for short – that uses the recently constructed Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR) and Education Centre at Birr Castle to connect with students, teachers and members of the public in rural communities in the Midlands.

Astronomical Midlands, funded by Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme, will embark on three key initiatives:

o Space4Exploration: Create an engaging, inspirational and multi-use space in the I-LOFAR Education Centre.

o Space4Students: Launch day-long and week-long space camps at the Education Centre that run during school term and school holidays for students aged 10 to 14.

o Space4Teachers: Create CPD workshops for upper primary and lower secondary school teachers based around the National Junior Certificate themes of Earth and Space.

Astronomical Midlands is overseen by our Project Manager, Aine Flood and Project Scientist Prof Peter Gallagher.  We will also recruit “Astronomical Ambassadors” to interact with visitors to Birr and to deliver space camps and teacher workshops.

Astronomical Midlands will open new conversations with groups that have had little involvement with STEM using our unique facility at Birr. Our project will allow people in the Midlands to discover opportunities for further education and careers in STEM and inspire the next generation of scientific explorers.

Astronomical Midlands is go for launch from February 2019!


Offaly County Council confers Civic Recognition Award on Professor Peter Gallagher

Press Release from Offaly County Council:

Professor Gallagher received the award at a Civic Reception in Offaly County Council on Monday, 16th October 2018. The special event was attended by Professor Gallagher’s family, colleagues and guests from the worlds of science, academia, tourism, enterprise and local development. Among the guests were Lord and Lady Rosse, Lady Alicia Clements of Birr Castle, and Mr. Joe Hogan of Openet.

At the Civic Reception, Offaly County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr. Danny Owens informed the attendees that the decision to confer a Civic Recognition Award is a reserved function of Offaly County Council. It is an acknowledgement of a person’s outstanding contribution to the County.

The Civic Recognition Award acknowledges Professor Peter Gallagher’s outstanding contribution to the County; leading the €2m I-LOFAR project in Birr, developing the I-LOFAR Education Centre in conjunction with Offaly County Council, and for on-going work to develop collaborative research and discovery in Offaly.

Cathaoirleach Cllr. Danny Owens spoke of Birr’s rich astronomical heritage, a worldwide reputation that is a great source of pride for Offaly people. The selection of Birr as the location for the new I-LOFAR radio telescope marks a new chapter for scientific endeavour in Offaly.

I-LOFAR is the Irish Station in a European wide network of state-of-the-art radio telescopes. The telescope is used to study celestial objects such as the sun, black holes and magnetic fields.

In addition to the benefits of having a cutting-edge science project in Offaly, having the I-LOFAR telescope in Birr opens up new possibilities for research, jobs, tourism and science education.

Offaly County Council’s Chief Executive Ms. Anna Marie Delaney acknowledged Professor Gallagher’s willingness to collaborate and work with Offaly County Council and others to harness the economic potential of I-LOFAR. Ms. Delaney outlined a number of projects where Professor Gallagher had generously given of his time, including the development of the I-LOFAR Education Centre and a field trip to ASTRON (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy).

Professor Gallagher then gave an informative and engaging presentation on the I-LOFAR project and the opportunities for further development. Elected Members Cllr. John Carroll and Cllr. John Clendennen commended Professor Gallagher’s enthusiasm, work to date and drive to develop scientific discovery in Offaly.

Offaly County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr. Danny Owens then presented Professor Gallagher with a framed scroll and a specially commissioned piece of art to commemorate the Civic Recognition. The commissioned piece was designed and produced by LEO Offaly client Michelle O’Donnell of Glasshammer Studios. Radio images generated from the I-LOFAR telescope were used as inspiration for the piece.

MC and Director of Services Mr. Frank Heslin thanked all present and invited all to join the Members for refreshments in the Council atrium.

I-LOFAR is operated by Trinity College Dublin on behalf of the I-LOFAR Consortium. It is supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Dept of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Offaly Co Co, and many others.

First Pulsar Light with I-LOFAR!

Pulsars are rotating neutron stars that beam radiation into space like rapidly rotating lighthouses. Last week a team of scientists from Ireland and the UK used I-LOFAR and a new Dell-EMC cluster called the “REALtime Transient Acquisition Cluster (REALTA)” to observe our first pulsar, B0950+08.

The plot below shows the first thirty seconds of an observation of pulsar with the I-LOFAR station at Birr, Co. Offaly. Signals that travel through the interstellar medium are delayed in a frequency-dependent way as they travel to Earth – the greater the distance the greater the delay. Here we recorded data from the direction of this pulsar and compensated for a range of different delays.

First pulsar light with I-LOFAR! Pulses detected every ~253.0638 milliseconds.

Every pulse detected is shown as a dot and the stronger the pulse the larger the dot. We can see a number of very strong pulses peaking at the delay corresponding to a distance of 260 parsec which is about 850 light years. This is the distance of the pulsar, and further examination of the time between the pulses shows that they come periodically every 253.0638 milliseconds – this is the rotation rate of the pulsar – there are about 4 pulsar ‘days’ every second for this star. This sounds extreme but it is in fact quite typical for a pulsar – the very fastest pulsar we know of spins 716 times per second with the ‘slowest’ taking 23.5 seconds to rotate once.

This is the first pulsar to be detected with I-LOFAR and marks the beginning of pulsar observing at the site. When fully up and running it should be capable of monitoring a hundred or so pulsars regularly.

Pulsar pulses act like the ticks of very precise clocks spread throughout the Milky Way. By monitoring these clocks one can study effects of gravity, high-density neutron star physics, the composition and structure of the Milky Way and much more besides.

These exciting investigations into fundamental questions of physics will be pursued from the I-LOFAR station, situated in the grounds of Birr Castle, and the performance is expected to improve. I-LOFAR’s sensitivity is best straight up and falls off towards the horizon, and this pulsar only ever gets as high as 45 degrees above the horizon. So the sensitivity in this direction is half the maximum, and for this first observation only one quarter of the available bandwidth was used reducing the sensitivity in half again. This is only the tip of the iceberg!

The observations were obtained by a team including Evan Keane (Square Kilometre Array/Jodrell Bank), Joe McCauley, Peter Gallagher, Pearse Murphy and Brian Coghlan (TCD), Griffin Foster (Oxford/Berkeley/Breakthough), Paul Callanan and Luke Timmons (UCC), and Matt Redman and Nevenoe Guegan (NUIG).

I-LOFAR and REALTA are supported by research infrastructure grants from Science Foundation Ireland. REALTA is owned by UCC and NUIG and hosted at TCD’s Rosse Observatory.

Ireland’s Biggest Telescope Gearing up to Catch the Perseid Meteor Shower

This week the team at I-LOFAR has been excitedly undergoing preparations for the upcoming Perseid Meteor Shower. Saturday night, 12th August 2018, is due to have the highest level of meteor activity with an expected 10 meteors per minute!

What is a Meteor Shower?

Meteors, more commonly known as “shooting stars”, are in fact small pieces of rock that have broken away from asteroids or comets due to collisions or extreme heating caused by their tremendous velocities. The small rocks enter Earth’s atmosphere and the resulting drag or air resistance of the air particles leads to further heating. This heating produces a huge glow which we can observed from the ground. A “shower” of meteors is caused when a comet passes especially close to the Sun & Earth inducing a large amount of heating and break up. In the case of the Perseids, Earth is passing through the dust and debris left behind the comet Swift–Tuttle.

How does LOFAR Detect Meteors?

I-LOFAR is hoping to observe the Perseid Shower using two different methods.

1. The first is called “passive radar”. This uses radio antennae to detect reflections of military/aeronautical radar off the plasma trail of the meteor. I-LOFAR will be trying to observe the reflection from a French radar used to monitor satellite orbits, called GRAVES, at 145 MHz.

2. The second method of meteor detection is by measuring direct emission from plasma in tail below 60 MHz as was done here by the Long Wavelength Array.

I-LOFAR has also teamed up with scientists at Dunsink Observatory, in collaboration with the Nematode network, who are planning on observing the event using two optical cameras with 30×30 degree FOV looking south and southwest, as well as a Yagi all-sky antenna tuned to GRAVE at 145 MHz.

What will we Learn?

From these observations I-LOFAR hopes to to determine the number of meteors per minutes, how fast they were traveling, from where the originated and where they were going in the plane of the sky.

How can I Observe the Perseids?

The Perseids will be most active on the nights of the 11th-12th & 12th-13th August 2018 and can be see with the naked eye. Get as far away from light pollution as you can and simply look up! Count and see if you can get 10 in a minute. And don’t forget to tune back in the coming days to see how the I-LOFAR team got on!

For more information and live updates on progress, keep an eye on the @I_LOFAR, @DunsinkObs and @nemetodemeteor Twitter feeds.