By Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU

I-LOFAR will be the Irish addition to the LOFAR network and the 12th international station to be built in Europe.

LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) is a €150000 international network of state-of-the-art telescopes used to observe the Universe in unprecedented detail at low radio frequencies. LOFAR is one of the largest astrophysics projects in Europe, consisting of 11 international stations spread across Germany, Poland, France, UK, and Sweden, with additional stations and a central hub in The Netherlands, operated by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON).

Figure: I-LOFAR Telescope2.jpg

Irish astrophysical research will now be integrated to one of the most sophisticated telescopes of the world.

“I am delighted to turn the switch on I-LOFAR and link Ireland with our European partners in this pioneering research collaboration in astronomy. Membership of LOFAR affords a unique opportunity for research and engagement to young people across the country with astronomy and science in general. As Minister it is my distinct pleasure to be here to celebrate the achievement of such a wide section of the Irish scientific community” said John Halligan T.D. Minister of state for training, skills, innovation, research and Development.

The Irish telescope is located in Birr and has been supported with €1.4 million from Science Foundation Ireland and the annual membership fee for LOFAR will be funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland added “We are delighted to see the progress that has been made in constructing I-LOFAR at Birr Castle. Science Foundation Ireland has supported this through an investment of €1.4m, to ensure that we have world-class research facilities in Ireland that enable researchers to explore new ideas in the areas of radio astronomy, big data, data analytics and supercomputing.  I am confident that this cutting-edge infrastructure will create exciting opportunities for new and innovative collaborations between researchers, and enable them to secure future funding from industry and from EU programmes.”

“’This is an amazing initiative, which represents a significant step forward in astronomical research, and we at eir are very proud to be able to play a part. We have deployed cutting edge fibre wavelength technology, providing 10GB uncontended symmetrical access to I-LOFAR at Birr Castle. These speeds are game changing for I-LOFAR and enable the team to transmit and exchange vast amounts of data to the I-LOFAR network in Europe.  Working in collaboration with HEAnet we have connected the circuit to Groningen in the Netherlands, which is currently transmitting 3.2 gigabits per second” said Richard Moat, CEO of Open eir who has provided the high speed fibre connection required to power the telescope.

Professor Gallagher, Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity College Dublin, said “The Irish LOFAR radio telescope opens up a new era of astronomical research in Ireland and connects us to the leading network of radio telescopes in Europe. It will be used to study the early Universe, detect exploding stars, search for new planets and understand the effects of the Sun on the Earth. The huge volumes of data that the radio telescope will produce will requires us to develop new software and data analytics techniques to process and understand the data. I-LOFAR really is a test-bed for big data in Ireland.”


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