Ireland has opened a new antenna station as part of the €150m Europe-wide Low Frequency Radio Array (LOFAR). The addition of the Irish station, which is located at Birr Castle Estate in County Offaly and operated by Trinity College Dublin, means that the LOFAR network now stretches 2000 km across increasing the telescope’s sensitivity.
The telescope was switched on by John Halligan, Ireland’s minister for training, skills, innovation, research and development. “Membership of LOFAR affords a unique opportunity for research and engagement to young people across the country with astronomy and science in general,” says Halligan. “As minister, it is my distinct pleasure to be here to celebrate the achievement of such a wide section of the Irish scientific community.”
Fifty-one antenna stations
LOFAR is being developed by a consortium led by ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. It consists of 51 antenna stations, 38 of which are in the Netherlands with six in Germany, three in Poland and one in England, Ireland, France and Sweden.
The telescope operates between 10–240 MHz, allowing scientists to look back to the formation of the first stars, scan the skies for rare transient phenomena and study high-energy cosmic rays.
“Thanks to the new LOFAR station in Ireland, we can observe the universe in even more detail. For example, we can look more closely at objects near and far, from our Sun to black holes, magnetic fields, and the emergence of galaxies in the early universe,” says LOFAR director Rene Vermeulen. “These are important areas of research for astronomers in the Netherlands and partner countries.”