Thursday, 13 November 2014

Sunspotter workshops for the Midlands Science Week festival

--> Several Sunspotter workshops took place in a number of Midlands schools this week as part of the Midlands Science Festival..
Aine Flood, Pietro Zucca and Peter Gallagher of the Citizen Science Alliance at Trinity College explained……
‘Our job at the Solar and Space Weather Group in Trinity is to use data from ESA and NASA satellites to understand the Sun and how it effects us here on Earth. We also run the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory in Birr (, which is equipped with antennas and other instrument to continuously monitor solar activity and its impacts on the Earth’s magnetic field. We are particularly interested in forecasting solar flares and solar mass ejections, which can produce the northern and southern lights and cause problems in telecommunication and GPS systems.’ Peter Gallagher, Head of the Solar and Space Weather Group

Aine, what is the Citizen Science Alliance?
The Citizen Science Alliance is a collection of many scientists, software developers and educators from all over the world who work together on internet based projects to improve their research as well as other peoples understanding of both the science and how scientific work is done. They invite everyone to become a citizen scientist by collaborating with them online and offering their time and skills to help sort through large collections of data.
Why is public engagement important for this project to succeed?
The public are our collaborators for this project and all the others in the Zooniverse collection. Without the public offering their time and energy to help classify the sunspots we wouldn’t have a project! It’s really important for us to engage with the public and tell them how much they are helping real scientific research by participating in SunSpotter. This is an Irish based project, thought up and created by solar physics researchers in Trinity College Dublin. Our team uses the results to help forecast solar weather which affects a lot of things here on Earth such as radio communications, contact with orbiting satellites, and of course any astronauts in space need to know if a solar storm is about to strike.
What can we do to ensure we encourage the next generation consider science as a career?
The more scientists that talk to young people about their work, what they do and why they do it, the clearer it is that science is a fascinating and important part of all our lives. Some people, especially children are always asking questions, trying to figure out how things work and wondering why everything happens as it does. Science strives to answer these questions. Our understanding of the world around us, and indeed the whole universe, has improved greatly due to answers we have found through scientific research and observation. But one of the best things about science is that often these answers lead to even more questions. We don’t know everything, there’s still lots to discover!
Are you looking forward to being involved in the Midlands Science Week and why are events like this important for Science promotion?
Yes, we are really looking forward to it! We are delighted to be involved with the team at the Midlands Science Festival. Events like this encourage people to get more involved with spreading science. Whether you want to have a chat about it at an evening talk or get ‘hands on’ and learn something new at a workshop there’s something for all ages and interests. These events also give scientists an opportunity and platform to engage with an interested public and tell them why their research matters. This clear dialogue is essential for better understanding and appreciation of science.
If you wish to learn more please see

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Big Day For Birr With Launch Of Solar Observatory

AN IMPORTANT day in the history of Birr Castle took place on Saturday afternoon when a new space observatory was officially launched. This new observatory could be part of something very exciting indeed because it is possible that one day it could detect the existence of extra-terrestrial life. If the project comes to fruition it will also be part of a system which will expand our knowledge of the early evolution of the universe.
The new Observatory is called the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory and it is located in former farmsheds and fields in the Mount Palmer section of the Demesne. A number of antennae are already in place in the Mount Palmer area, the farm sheds have been considerably renovated, and €300,000 has been raised for the project. Fundraising efforts are currently underway to raise another €1.2 million for the scheme, and the Castle and Trinity College Dublin are appealing to the business people of Birr and Offaly to financially support this exciting project. 

Businessmen Dermot Desmond and Denis O'Brien have both contributed €50,000 each to I-LOFAR. Birr businessman Stevie Grant has also contributed a significant amount. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is currently considering whether it will give funding to I-LOFAR and is due to make an announcement on the matter during July.

Speaking during Saturday's launch Brendan Parsons Lord Rosse said his ancestors, the 3rd and 4th Earls, would have been very excited and proud to see this new development. He said that in terms of ambition and breaking new ground, this project was on a parallel with the giant telescope constructed in the demesne in the 1840s. He pointed out that the Third Earl studied in Trinity College Dublin. He said the renovated farmsheds were built during the 5th Earl's time, who brought over an agricultural adviser from Denmark. 'He was more interested in agriculture than in science.' He said the I-LOFAR project is a dynamic and exciting scheme.

Professor Peter Gallagher, School of Physics, Trinity College, recalled that he first visited the farmsheds four years ago and they were full of sheep. Now the sheep have been moved elsewhere and have been replaced by a building devoted to Astrophysics. He commented that the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory is already a working observatory. He said the antennae which are already in situ and working are able to pick up radio waves being emitted by the sun. Clouds are not a barrier to their ability to function. 
Professor Gallagher added that the antennae are also able to monitor the Earth's ionosphere which can be helpful in forecasting disruptions in communication systems. He pointed out that one of the Birr antennae detected a major solar burst and this fact was reported in 'Nature Physics', a leading Science magazine.

'The ambition is to convert the farmsheds into a lecture area suitable for visiting students.' The Professor added that while raising €1.2 million may seem like a large sum of money, in the context of science projects it is not a large sum. He praised Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy who, he said, has been very supportive of I-LOFAR, including travelling with an I-LOFAR, fund-seeking delegation to the EU Parliament earlier on in the year.

I-LOFAR is the name for the Irish version of this international project with the 'I' standing for 'Irish' and 'LOFAR' standing for 'Low Frequency Array.' 

'Birr's tradition and radio-quiet environment make it an ideal location for being part of what is, when all the radio telescopes throughout Europe are combined as one, the largest low frequency radio telescope in the world,' said the Professor. 'I-LOFAR will not only attract additional visitors to Birr, but will contribute to Ireland emerging as a key player in international research and development.'

I-LOFAR will be part of an international network of radio telescopes which are referred to as LOFAR. LOFAR is currently up and running on a Europe-wide basis with about 60 radio telescopes throughout the continent including Sweden, France, Britain, Germany and Holland (there are 42 radio telescopes in Holland). €150 million in funding has been invested in the project and this funding has come from National Science Agencies and the European Regional Development Fund. The aim of LOFAR's work includes providing new views of exploding stars, and detecting previously unknown planets. Each radio telescope consists of multiple antennae. LOFAR will enable  the study of Black Holes (which were predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity).

'Lord and Lady Rosse have been nothing short of magnificent since we first came to Birr,' remarked Professor Gallagher. 'On every visit they have been very hospitable to us.' He complimented George Vaugh for helping renovate the farmsheds. 'George did a great deal of work including bringing gravel to the area, as well as electricity. Our name for the sheds now is the control room. This is a good start and I think we have a bright future.'

Dr Patrick Prendergast, the Provost of Trinity College, said he was delighted to be present. He said the connection between Trinity College and the Parsons family goes back hundreds of years. It was a connection which was devoted to the love and pursuit of knowledge. It was a connection which was dedicated to science and which also possessed a strong sense of public service. 

He commented that as a student in Trinity in the 1770s Sir Lawrence Parsons, the second Earl, was an auditor in the university. He represented Dublin University in the Irish House of Commons. 'We are very proud of him in Trinity College. As an MP he spoke strongly for independence and integrity. He was praised by Wolfe Tone who said he was one of the few honest men in the Irish House of Commons.

'The Third Earl was a truly remarkable man who in 1845 constructed the Hubble telescope of its time, which is an extraordinary piece of scientific heritage for Ireland. Using his telescope the Third Earl drew the very first images of the Milky Way. He possessed the same qualities of integrity and decency as his father. He was a vocal critic of the government in London during the famine and he told them the situation was desperate. He was an important voice of compassion and economic sense. In 1862 he was made a chancellor of Trinity.'  

The Provost said the Third Earl handed on his passions and enthusiasms to his children, and the Fourth Earl's brother, Algernon, invented the steam turbine.

He said the current Earl, the 7th Earl, has continued the great family tradition of a love and pursuit of knowledge. He said the 7th Earl was recently elected an honorary member of Trinity College.

'Today is another milestone in the Parsons family's long commitment to science. I want to thank them for their marvellous generosity. To engage in astrophysics in a place which is crucial in the history of astrophysics is something special.'

Lord Rosse said that when the giant telescope was officially opened in 1845 a local clergyman walked up and down the inside of the barrel of the telescope blessing it as he went. He asked two local clergymen, Archdeacon Wayne Carney and Fr Tony Cahir, to bless I-LOFAR in Birr using water taken from St Brendan's Well in the demesne.

Fr Cahir quoted Pope Francis who recently, during an astronomers' convention, pointed out that, 'It is only right that men and women everywhere should have access to research and scientific training. The hope that one day all people will be able to enjoy the benefits of science is one which spurs all of us on, scientists in particular. Only a fraction of the global population has access to such knowledge, which opens the heart and the mind to the great questions which human beings have always asked: Where do we come from? Where are we going? The search for an answer to these questions can lead us to an encounter with the Creator, the loving Father, for in him we live and move and have our being.'

Archdeacon Carney quoted from the Book of Sirach: 'All creation obeys His will. He declares what is past and what will be. Not a thought escapes Him. Nothing can be added to him, nothing taken away. Who could ever grow tired of gazing at His glory?'

If you would like to make a donation to the I-LOFAR project please contact Professor Gallagher at (087) 6568975.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory opening ceremony

Trinity’s New Observatory in Birr to Illuminate the Sun-Earth Connection

The Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory, which will be opened on Saturday, June 28th, will be used to help better understand solar phenomena affecting everyday life on Earth
Details: 3 pm, Saturday, June 28th, 2014 at Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co. Offaly (attending press/photographers are advised to arrive by 2:45 pm to ascend the observatory).

Dublin, June 27th, 2014 The Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory – a Trinity College Dublin School of Physics teaching and research facility devoted to studying the Sun and its effects on Earth – will be officially opened with a ceremony at Birr Castle Demesne, Co. Offaly, on Saturday June 28th.
 The Sun is an enormous ball of hot gas, which keeps our planet hot enough for life to flourish. From time to time though, huge clouds of hot solar gas can be flung into space at hundreds of thousands of kilometers an hour. These ‘solar storms’ can endanger astronauts and cause problems for telecommunications and navigation systems here on Earth.
Scientists will use the observatory and its set of scientific instruments to work out when solar storms erupt from the Sun and when they hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere and magnetic field. Scientists at Trinity have developed the observatory at Birr Castle in the midlands of Ireland to monitor the effervescent Sun’s nearly unpredictable outbursts.
Director of the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory and Associate Professor in Physics at Trinity, Peter Gallagher, said: “We are delighted to reignite scientific research at Birr and to honour one of Ireland’s greatest innovators of the 1800s, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, by naming the observatory for him.”
Trinity has established links with Birr that stretch back over a century and a half. Indeed, the 3rd Earl was Chancellor in 1862–1867, the 4th Earl was Chancellor in 1885–1908 and the 6th Earl was Pro-Chancellor in 1949–1979. The observatory will enable researchers to study the Sun and its effects on the Earth like no other facility in Ireland. A set of antennae will constantly monitor solar activity, while another antenna will monitor solar effects on a layer of the Earth’s upper atmosphere called the ‘ionosphere’. Ionospheric disturbances can cause drop-outs in high-frequency communications with aircraft. An additional instrument, called a magnetometer, which is operated jointly with the Geophysics Section of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, will continuously monitor disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. These ‘geomagnetic storms’ can cause deflections in compasses and surges in electricity power grids.
 Professor Gallagher added: “A facility like this will also enable Irish students to gain valuable hands on skills in programming, electronics, antennas, and cutting-edge scientific research at a working observatory. Physics graduates are in great demand in high-tech companies and end up working in a wide range of sectors including IT, finance, engineering, education, which are all areas of particular importance to the development of the smart economy in Ireland.”

Monday, 19 May 2014

Work in Progress

Here some pictures on the work in progress. 

Trench for the new pipes with the antenna cables. 
(Digged with a wood stick, yes true!)
 Gazebo to work in the Irish weather.
 New water insulator for the Log-Periodic, (Yes, it is a plastic water container! But still, it works)
Joe posing with the Log-Periodic antenna.

 The control box for the pre-amplifier of the bicone antenna.
Gazebo and office chair for Joe working on the receivers.

Antennas back in place!

Our Log-Periodic and Bicone antennas are finally back in place, it took us a lot of hard work but finally we can put our radio-eyes towards the Sun again!

 Our new graveled yard with the antennas back in place.
 Joe likes our new control box!

Rosse Observatory Site Upgrade

The RSTO spectrographs and ionospheric monitors were out of operation for some weeks, this was to allow some upgrading work in the pavement of the observatory yard.

Here some movies on the process of re-cabling the antennas after the site upgrading.

Prof. Gallagher and Mr. McCauley working on some cables in the RSTO control room.

Peter and Joe trying to strip off some old plastic pipes from the cables,
(yes Peter, I did put it in the blog!)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Recent Geomagnetic Event 2013-10-08 20:00:00

At 07:09 on the 5th of October, LASCO observed a CME event, with an angular width > 270 degrees. This indicates that it was potentially a halo CME.

LASCO recorded a median velocity of 650km/s.

The event was observed at the same time by Stereo 1 and Stero 2:

The event was registered by the magnetometer installed in the Rosse Observatory just after 20:00:00 on the 8th of October.
Despite this, the K-index did not rise above 2 for the disturbance.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

RSTO and Glendalough radio survey.

Today and yesterday Christian Monstein from ETH Zurich and the RSTO team performed some radio surveys in Birr Castle (RSTO site) and in Glendalough miners village (as a quiet site reference).

Radio frequency interference (RFI) spectrum at RSTO  (courtesy of Christian Monstein).

Small Log-Periodic Antenna used for the radio survey.

Small Log-Periodic Antenna used for the radio survey.

Christian Monstein and Joe McCauley in Glengalough Co. Wicklow during the quiet reference radio survey.