Radio Telescope to Revolutionise our Understanding of the Universe
Jul 01, 2011
A group of researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics have been actively involved in an initiative that will see Ireland become part of a Europe wide network of interconnected radio telescopes. The Low Frequency Array network, called LOFAR, is the largest telescope in the world at low frequencies and will have applications in geophysics, meteorology, and agriculture. Should funding be raised, the iconic radio telescope will not only bring Irish researchers to the forefront of astrophysics and ICT research, but will provide a platform for educational outreach in mathematics, physics and technology to students of all ages.
“Low Frequency Arrays are giant multipurpose sensor radio telescopes which can look at large portions of the sky all at once. By putting a station here we would have a radio telescope with a 1,400km diameter. This means we can take huge pictures of the night sky,” said TCD Senior Lecturer in Physics and Head of the Irish LOFAR consortium, Dr Peter Gallagher. Radio telescopes do not capture light but operate in the lower radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. They capture anything that emits radio waves which would signal intelligent life beyond our planet.
Other applications of LOFAR include its ability to undertake deep, large area surveys of the low frequency radio sky which will open a new window on numerous fundamental areas of astrophysics such as galaxy formation and black holes. LOFAR also has the potential to explore the dynamic processes involved in solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from their origins on the Sun as they propagate out through the solar atmosphere. These flares and CMEs are major drivers of space weather and can affect the near-Earth environment, causing problems here on Earth.
The first complete international LOFAR station at Effelsberg, Germany - July 2009
Aside from its practical applications LOFAR will also create opportunities for education and public outreach. The all-Ireland consortium, made up of researchers and astronomers from universities, colleges and observatories across Ireland, aim to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among students, teachers and members of the public. Alongside educational benefits the project is also forging strong links with industry in areas such as cloud computing, software and fibre-optics. By building links between industry and academia the project will act as a springboard for future enterprise, employment and innovation in Ireland.
It is proposed to build the Irish LOFAR station at Birr Castle Demesne. The Castle has a long and distinguished tradition in science and astronomy as it was the site of the world's largest optical telescope from 1845 to 1917. Built by the 3rd Earle of Rosse, William Parsons, who studied at Trinity College and was Chancellor of the University from 1862-1867, the ‘Great Leviathan Telescope’ remained the world’s largest until the construction of the Hooker Telescope in California in 1917. The site’s flat terrain and tradition in astronomy make it an ideal location for the LOFAR telescope.
The Trinity College Dublin members of the Irish LOFAR consortium include Dr Peter Gallagher; Dr Brian Espey; Dr Graham Harper and Dr Shaun Bloomfield. Further information on the project can be found at www.lofar.ie.
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