Connacht schools get radio telescope project backing

Dual dipole array radio telescope

16 July 2018

A group of Connacht schools has been awarded funding to support the Connacht Schools Planetary Radio Telescope Network which will observe the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter as part of a wider NASA research programme.

The Europlanet Consortium is a €9.95 million project funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020, through its 2018 round of the Outreach Funding Scheme will fund the fund the installation of eight dual dipole antenna radio telescopes on the grounds of rural secondary schools in counties Galway, Roscommon and Mayo.

Each radio telescope, about 6 metres long, 3 metres high and resembling washing lines, will be used by teachers and students to observe the equivalent of the northern lights above the polar regions of the planet Jupiter. The observations will contribute to the larger network of NASA’s Radio Jove facilities, used to monitor the giant planet’s active magnetosphere, observing and analysing natural radio emissions of Jupiter, the Sun, and our galaxy. Observations can be conducted regardless of weather, and the low population densities around each of the schools will limit the background ‘radio-frequency interference’. Each observatory, when operational, will feed real-time data to a server in NUI Galway.

The project leader, Dr Aaron Golden from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics in NUI Galway said that practical activities in astronomy have great potential for inspiring school students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

“However,” said Dr Golden, “there are limited opportunities due to the need for specialised equipment and facilities, to work at unsocial hours and, of course, clear skies, certainly for optical astronomy. Radio astronomy offers a very cost effective alternative for teachers and students to participate in actual observations of radio-bright objects such as the Sun and the planet Jupiter, and be able to participate in the wider astronomical community’s study of this most fascinating of the solar system’s planets.”

The participating schools in the Connacht Schools Planetary Radio Telescope Network:

  • Scoil Muire Agus Pádraig, Swinford, Mayo
  • Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe, Galway
  • Mount St. Michael Secondary School, Claremorris, Mayo
  • Coláiste Chiaráin, Athlone, Roscommon
  • Ballinrobe Community School, Ballinrobe, Mayo
  • Joseph’s Patrician College, Galway
  • Presentation College Headford, Galway
  • Coláiste na Coiribe, Galway


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