Astrophysical transient searches with LOFAR

   Department of Physics and Astronomy

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  Dr R Starling  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

·       The low frequency radio regime is a relatively unexplored parameter space rich in information concerning extreme astrophysical phenomena, particularly those in which magnetic fields play a key role like magnetars (highly magnetic neutron stars) and relativistic jets launched by black holes and compact object mergers. The power of the LOFAR low-frequency array to probe transient astrophysical sources is becoming evident, while for many of the transients discovered their progenitor systems and/or physics are not yet known. LOFAR is providing a transformational increase in radio survey speed in the newly accessible low-frequency regime and our international team have made significant progress in finding fast transients following the development of a dedicated detection pipeline for LOFAR images and an automated system to feed high energy transient alerts to LOFAR to initiate rapid follow-up observations. The LOFAR Surveys are continually building up images of the northern sky in which we can search for new radio bursts, to probe the populations represented among transient events. In parallel, high energy satellites are triggering on gamma-ray bursts created in shock fronts within relativistic jets. For some of these, magnetic models predict a coincident MHz radio burst, while for others radio emission is expected from spin-down of a new-born magnetar or its collapse to a black hole, and we can probe both with LOFAR in rapid-response mode.

 ·       This PhD is well timed for the exploitation of a major upgrade to the LOFAR facility, vastly increasing the capability for transient observations in the LOFAR2.0 phase from 2025 with commissioning of the upgraded facility beginning in 2024. The PhD researcher will have an opportunity to contribute to shaping of the transients programme for LOFAR2.0, and will develop skills applicable to future big data projects such as the radio facility the Square Kilometre Array.

 ·       The goals are to find and identify radio transients in LOFAR data. This may be survey imaging or images taken as part of follow-up of high energy events such as gamma-ray bursts and gravitational waves. Methodology includes application of analysis techniques to obtain unique radio data products, and to augment and apply our transients detection pipeline to probe LOFAR images on different timescales. The group here has access to a wide range of other facilities to collect broadband data, which may be combined with the radio information to model physical processes and origins of detected transients.

 ·       An affinity with python or other programming language, and some familiarity with how radio interferometry works, would be beneficial.

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Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The projects listed are in competition for STFC funding. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.
The STFC studentship provides:
A full UK fee waiver for 3.5 years*
An annual tax free stipend (currently £18,622 for 2023/4) for 3.5 years
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
Conference Fees and UK Fieldwork fund
*Up to 2 international studentships are available and include a 3.5 year full overseas fee waiver and stipend as above.


• A LOFAR prompt search for radio emission accompanying X-ray flares in GRB 210112A Hennessy, Starling et al. 2023, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 526, 106
• Constraining a neutron star merger origin for localized fast radio bursts Gourdji et al. 2020, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 417, 3131
• Constraining coherent low frequency radio flares from compact binary mergers Rowlinson & Anderson 2019, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 489, 3316
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