Exploring The Universe from Birr With Peter Gallagher

One of the most interesting events at this year’s Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival will be Exploring the Universe from Birr with Professor Peter Gallagher at Birr Theatre & Arts Centre on Thursday 4 August. Birr has a long and distinguished tradition in astronomy dating back to the mid-1800s. Over a century and a half later, a group of Irish astronomers are now building a new radio telescope in Birr that will reignite astronomy here and put Ireland back on the cutting edge of research in astrophysics.


Professor Peter Gallagher is a solar astrophysicist at Trinity College Dublin and is leading the construction of the LOFAR telescope in Birr.  This will connect the town to the largest telescope in the world and allow scientists to explore the early universe, find planets and study explosions on the sun with amazing detail. This is a talk for all the family and not to be missed! We had a chat with Professor Gallagher ahead of his visit to Birr.


Exploring The Universe from Birr With Peter Gallagher

Peter Gallagher will be at the Birr Theatre

What exactly is a solar astrophysicist?

We are scientists who are trying to understand how the sun works. We want to understand things such as nuclear reactions, where do sunspots come from, and why does the sun produce solar flares. We are also involved in designing and building satellites and scientific instruments to study the sun for the European Space Agency and NASA.


Who are your biggest influences?

Science, rock music and rugby are my three passions. In science, Stephen Hawking had a huge influence on me when I read his book “A Brief History of Time” as a teenager. It literally blew my mind!


What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Never give up no matter what the odds are.


Five things you can’t live without?

My wife and two boys, my mother and our dog, Harry.


Is there any motto you live by?

Work hard, play hard.


What can you not miss on TV?

Vikings. Believe it or not, the battles, power-plays, big personalities, and drama remind me of the way international science works.


Do you have a secret talent?

I’ve been playing guitar since I was in primary school and love playing anything from AC/DC to classical pieces. I probably spent too much time as a teenager trying to get my heavy metal band going rather than focusing on my Leaving Cert – much to my parent’s frustration!


Tell us more about the LOFAR radio project.

The Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) is a huge network of radio telescopes that are spread across Europe. LOFAR will make strange radio pictures of stars, galaxies and the sun. In fact, LOFAR will revolutionise studies into huge exploding stars, conduct the first studies into the early universe after the Big Bang, and provide a new insights into the sun and how it effects our lives on earth. It will also help us to find new planets around other stars – maybe some of which might harbour life.

Why should people come on Thursday?

I will be talking about the great astronomical questions that astronomers around the world have been asking for generation and how the astronomers in Birr have played an important role in answering these questions in the 19th century with the Leviathan Telescope and now again in the 21st century with the LOFAR radio telescope. I will be showing lots of pictures of stars, planets and galaxies, so there’ll be lots to look at even if you don’t think that science is your thing … and maybe my talk on Thursday might just change your mind!


Exploring The Universe from Birr, Birr Theatre & Arts Centre, Thursday 4 August, 2-3pm €5 (group of 4 €15) (Include tea/coffee, cordial and cookies!) To book: www.birrtheatre.com or call Box Office (057) 91 22911



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