After a century, world-class astronomy returns to Birr Castle

Birr Castle’s status as a world-class place for astronomy research has been restored with the opening of the Irish Low Frequency Array Radio Telescope (I-LOFAR).

The €2 million I-LOFAR is part of a much bigger network of radio telescopes spread from Ireland to Poland and connected by a high speed network to a centre in the Dutch city of Groningen.

I-LOFAR was funded with a €1.4 million grant from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). The rest came from donations from business people including Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond as well as local schoolchildren who raised €700.

The castle’s original telescope had a diameter of six foot (1.8 metres). From 1845 to 1917, the telescope, known as the Leviathan of Parsonstown, was the biggest ever built.

The LOFAR array across Europe has the equivalent of a diameter of 2,000 kilometres, making it over a million times more powerful than the original Leviathan.

“It means we can make very precise measurements of very faint objects,” explained Prof Peter Gallagher of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), head of the I-LOFAR collaboration.

The research will be able to detect exoplanets, planets around other stars, with strong magnetic fields like Earth which make them places that could harbour life.

To date 3,500 have been discovered including many which…

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