The largest radio telescope in the world was turned on for the first time at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly yesterday.

The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe.

Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity, said the Irish LOFAR radio telescope “opens up a new era of astronomical research in Ireland and connects us to the leading network of radio telescopes in Europe”.

“It will be used to study the early Universe, detect exploding stars, search for new planets and understand the effects of the Sun on the Earth,” Prof Gallagher said.

“The huge volumes of data that the radio telescope will produce will require us to develop new software and data analytics techniques to process and understand the data. I-LOFAR really is a test-bed for big data in Ireland,” he said.

The telescope 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.

The site in Birr was chosen as it is 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.

It received a €1.4 million award 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 was present for the official turning on of the telescope.

“Membership of LOFAR affords a unique opportunity for research and engagement to young people across the country with astronomy and science in general,” he said.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government said the investment will “enable researchers to explore new ideas in the areas of radio astronomy, big data, data analytics and supercomputing”.


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