Largest radio telescope in the world switched on in Co Offaly

A powerful new radio telescope that covers the size of a football pitch has been switched on in Co Offaly.

I-LOFAR is the Irish contribution to a €150m European-wide network of telescopes that combine to form one of the most sophisticated in the world.

The telescopes can observe the universe in unprecedented detail through low frequency radio waves.

LOFAR is one of the largest astrophysics projects in Europe, with 11 international stations spread across Germany, Poland, France, the UK and Sweden, with additional stations and a central hub in the Netherlands.

The new facility at Birr Castle has become the 12th station in the network.

It has been constructed 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 €1.4m from Science Foundation Ireland and the annual membership fee for LOFAR will be funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan performed Thursday's official switch on.

"I am delighted to turn the switch on I-LOFAR and link Ireland with our European partners in this pioneering research collaboration in astronomy," he said.

"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."

I-LOFAR will be run by Irish astrophysicists, computer engineers and data scientists, representing Irish universities and institutes of technologies from both sides of the border.

The team will be 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.

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