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LOFAR radio telescope network to extend into Ireland


The world’s biggest connected radio telescope is about to become even bigger! LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) will expand into Ireland. This is not only great news for Irish astrophysics, but also for the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT).
The plans for a LOFAR station in Ireland have been around for a while, but now it’s official: a LOFAR station will be built this year in Ireland. I-LOFAR (the Ireland-LOFAR consortium) has been awarded €1.4 Million by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Together with €0.5 Million in philanthropic grants plus contributions of I-LOFAR members, it is possible to build and exploit the LOFAR station, which will be constructed on the grounds of Birr Castle, located centrally in Ireland.

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Credit: LOFA

LOFAR is a next-generation radio telescope that is currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK and France. The impact of LOFAR on a wide range of astrophysical topics will be immense; it will revolutionise studies into transient stars and galaxies; conduct the first studies into the early universe after the Big Bang, complete the most extensive surveys of galaxies at low frequencies; and provide a new insight into the Sun-Earth connection. LOFAR will have applications in geophysics, meteorology, and agriculture. R.

On 12 January, during a meeting at Birr Castle, Irish Ministers Bruton (Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation) and English (Education and Skills) announced the award for I-LOFAR, as one element of a €30M investment by SFI in research infrastructures.

LOFAR is a world-leading facility for astronomical studies, providing for highly sensitive and detailed scrutiny of the nearby and far-away universe. LOFAR is designed and operated on behalf of the ILT by ASTRON, the Netherlands institute for Radio Astronomy. Dr. Rene Vermeulen, Director of the ILT, is delighted with the news: “The added Irish antenna station will be an excellent enhancement, extending the ILT to a pan-European fibre-connected network spanning 2000 kilometres. Such long distances allow exquisitely finely detailed sky imaging capability. And, at least as importantly, the Irish astronomical community will now add their expertise and effort to the “ILT family”, in the pursuit of a great many cutting-edge science questions that LOFAR can answer. Topics range from the properties of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, flaring of the Sun, out to the far reaches of the early universe when the first stars and galaxies formed.”

The International LOFAR Telescope is the largest connected radio telescope in the world. It is being steadily enhanced since the official opening by (then) Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2010. There are currently six partner countries: of the 50 antenna stations, 38 are located in the Netherlands, 6 in Germany, 3 in Poland, and 1 each in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Together, these have many thousands of receiving elements. The new Irish station will increase the distances between antenna stations, thus providing finer image details.

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