I-LOFAR – a new radio telescope for Ireland

Michael Burton, Director, AOP

On 27th July 2017, the RoI Minister John Halligan switched on I-LOFAR telescope, the largest radio telescope in the world, at Birr Castle in Co. Offaly.

RoI Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan opening I-LOFAR, surrounded by the students who built the telescope. Armagh students Yanina Metodieva, Rok Nezic and James Wild are prominent to the right.

The Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is a member of the 8 institutions across the island of Ireland that came together to build I-LOFAR.

I-LOFAR and its High Band Array at Birr Castle in County Offaly.

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

Map showing the stations of LOFAR across Europe. With the addition of the Irish station at Birr the east-west baseline is increased, so improving the angular resolution of the images.

I-LOFAR, is 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.  This revives the historic links between Armagh, Dunsink and Birr in the 19th century, which frequently saw Armagh Director Romney Robinson at Birr Castle using the Leviathan telescope.

I-LOFAR with the Milky Way over head (Credit: I-LOFAR Intern Luis Alberto Canizares)

Profesor 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.The huge volumes of data that the radio telescope will produce will requires 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.

First light images of the Milky Way and a number of bright astronomical objects observed by the Irish LOFAR radio telescope. The zoom in shows a picture of the Cygnus A galaxy observed using the International LOFAR Telescope network, which Ireland is now a part of.

Further details about I-LOFAR at its website, lofar.ie.  AOP’s membership was made possible by a generous grant from the Department of Communities.


Professor Michael Burton,
Director of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium