Ireland joins leading international astronomy collaboration

Posted on: 29 June 2017

Ireland is to join the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration after Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD and Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast signed a funding agreement between the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Trinity.

Joining the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration will allow Ireland's astrophysicists to directly participate in high-end research involving other collaborators around the globe.

The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe. The huge volume of data from all the telescopes is combined using advanced data analytics on a supercomputer in the Netherlands. The network therefore performs like a single, super-telescope of size equivalent to the geographical separation of the constituent telescopes.

The Irish telescope will be 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.

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.

Minister John Halligan said: “I am delighted that Ireland is joining this pioneering research collaboration in radio astronomy. It is very exciting that researchers across Ireland, both North and South, will now be able to participate in international research on fundamental questions about the origin and structure of the universe. Membership of LOFAR will also increase the engagement of young people with science and inspire our future researcher leaders.”

Dr Prendergast said: “Joining the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration will open many new research and funding opportunities for Irish researchers and students in Europe and further afield. Indeed, one of the I-LOFAR team, Tom Ray, a Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Trinity, has recently won a prestigious €2 million Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.”

Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity, Professor Peter Gallagher said: “This is the first time that a research-grade radio telescope has been built in Ireland. I-LOFAR will enable Irish researchers to study solar activity and exploding stars, search for new planets, and explore the distant universe in a completely new way. And this will be achieved by developing cutting-edge data analytics techniques on supercomputers here in Ireland and the Netherlands. I-LOFAR really will be a test-bed for big data and data analytics.”

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