By Daisy Dunne
A powerful new radio telescope that may be humanity's best hope of finding alien life has been switched on in Ireland.
The Irish telescope is part of the €150 million International Low-Frequency Array (I-Lofar) network of detectors reaching across Europe.
The telescope will use low frequency waves to search for alien signals, find new planets and help decipher the mysterious origins of black holes and galaxies, the Daily Mail reported.
Ireland's contribution to I-lofar, which takes up an area the size of a football pitch, was switched on by John Halligan, a government minister who has previously said that he believes in aliens.
"Our galaxy is 100,000 light years across with a billion suns and two billion planets," he told The Times.
"It would be extraordinary if there was not some form of life.
"I think it's inevitable that it is out there and today's launch will certainly help."
Lofar is one of the largest astrophysics projects in Europe, with 11 international stations spread across Germany, Poland, France, the UK and Sweden, with additional stations and a central hub in the Netherlands.
The new facility at Birr Castle in County Offaly has become the 12th station in the network.
It has been constructed adjacent to the historic Leviathan telescope, which was built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and was the largest optical telescope in the world until 1917.
Lofar will be able to listen out for far-away radio signals, which could indicate the presence of intelligent life, according to Paul Gilster, a space exploration analyst.
"The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has generally looked for targeted signals sent deliberately our way but scientists are also considering the possibility of accidental receptions, the markers of an industrial society at work," Mr Gilster told The Times.
"Lofar opens up a new frequency domain for the search for life. With its omnidirectional antennas and computing resources, it may help us pin down the sources of transient radio signals that could be faint signals from cultures around distant stars."
The telescope will also pick up radio signals emitted by hydrogen, which could help us better understand the "dark ages" of the universe following the big bang, he said.
And the ultra-sensitive radio antennas could help us gather more clues to understand the formation and behaviour of black holes, he added.
Lofar will be run by Irish astrophysicists, computer engineers and data scientists, representing Irish universities and institutes of technologies from both sides of the border.