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Minister Halligan switches on world leading radio telescope: I-LOFAR

Joining LOFAR marks another important milestone in the implementation of Innovation 2020

The Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, was at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly to switch on I-LOFAR telescope, the largest radio telescope in the world.

The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe. Irish Government and agency investment in research has propelled Ireland to the forefront of radio astronomy.

The Irish telescope, I-LOFAR, is located at Birr, Co Offaly adjacent to the historic Leviathan telescope, which was built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and was the largest optical telescope in the world until 1917. The telescope in Birr has been supported with an award of €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.

Speaking at the event the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan T.D. said, "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."

Joining LOFAR marks another important milestone in the implementation of Innovation 2020, the national strategy for research and innovation. It will support exciting, world-class scientific research and in addition the data intensive nature of radio astronomy will enhance Ireland’s world-leading capability in big data and data analytics. The skills in software and big data that young researchers will acquire from participation in LOFAR are in high demand in business and will open diverse and high quality career opportunities for them.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said “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.” 

Open eir  has provided the high speed fibre connection required to power the telescope. Commenting on the company’s involvement Richard Moat, CEO of eir, said “'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”

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.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Press Office, D/Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation ph. 6312200 or press.office@djei.ie 

NOTE TO EDITORS

LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) is an 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). The network uses state-of-the-art data processing and storage systems as well as sophisticated computing techniques to combine the entire network into a telescope with the effective size of the European continent.

I-LOFAR will be the Irish addition to this network and the 12th international station to be built in Europe. It will allow Irish astrophysical research to be integrated into one of the most sophisticated telescopes on the planet. The location of this Irish station will be in the centre of the country on the grounds of Birr Castle, Co. Offaly.

I-LOFAR will be run by a consortium of Irish astrophysicists, computer engineers and data scientists, representing Irish universities and institutes of technologies from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The consortium is led by Trinity College Dublin, with partners from University College Dublin, Dublin City University, Athlone Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland Galway, University College Cork, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and Armagh Observatory & Planetarium.

This facility will allow Irish researchers and students access to a facility involved in some of the most ground-breaking and advanced research projects in modern astronomy, including projects in big-bang cosmology, deep extragalactic surveys, cosmic magnetism, cosmic rays, solar physics and space weather.

The switch on of the Irish LOFAR telescope in Birr Castle, Co. Offaly will feature a promotional video for an upcoming documentary broadcasting on RTÉ One later this year.  Ireland has a distinguished history in reaching for the stars and 700 Light Years From Birr tells story of this exciting new development which will see Irish scientists playing a central role in international space research. 

Further information on I-LOFAR and its research programme is available at lofar.ie

 

 

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