Ireland has been chosen as the site for latest expansion of the world's largest connected radio telescope. The Ireland-LOFAR consortium (I-LOFAR) has been awarded grants totaling €1.9 million (US$2 million) to extend the network for the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT), in hope of providing it with a resolution rivaling that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Today's announcement by the Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Richard Bruton and Minister for Education and Skills, Damien English, marks the end of years of lobbying by the Irish scientific community for a LOFAR station to be built in the country. Using funds from the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), philanthropic grants, and private donations, the station will be built at Birr Castle in County Offaly and connected to the radio telescope network operated by ASTRON, the Netherlands institute for Radio Astronomy, on behalf of ILT.
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First opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2010, LOFAR is a network of radio telescope arrays designed to act together as a single instrument of extremely high resolution. Essentially, they form a radio telescope with a dish wide enough to reach from eastern Poland to central Ireland. Building such a dish is, of course, highly impractical, but by using the principle of interferometry, astrophysicists can get many telescopes to act as one by combining their signals, analyzing the way they interfere with one another, and using that interference pattern to create a high-resolution image of the sky as if from one gigantic antenna.
According to I-LOFAR there are 50 stations in the network spread across six partner countries, with 38 in the Netherlands, six in Germany, three in Poland, and one each in France, Sweden, and Britain.
"The added Irish antenna station will be an excellent enhancement, extending the ILT to a pan-European fiber-connected network spanning 2000 km (1,242 mi)," says Dr. Rene Vermeulen, Director of the ILT. "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 video below discusses Ireland's bid to host a LOFAR station