An important aspect of the visitor programme is the high frequency of visits and tours by members of the public and small groups. Observatory tours are usually conducted by the Librarian, who in 2000 showed approximately 500 individuals from 19 different countries around the Observatory. These figures highlight the success of the Armagh Observatory's `open door' policy to attract visits by interested members of the public, groups and societies. During 2000 such groups included schools from Belfast and Dublin, and parties from the Camphill Community Glencraig, the Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society, the NHS Retirement Fellowship, the Queen's University of Belfast at Armagh, and other bodies.
In addition to tours, the Observatory also organized several public lectures, and hosted a number of special events during 2000. Many of these were attended by VIPs, notably the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr Michael McGimpsey MLA; the astronaut and 1971 Apollo 14 Lunar Module pilot, Dr Edgar Mitchell; and the 2000 Robinson Lecturer, Dr Ian Crawford (University College London). Drs Eleanor `Glo' and Ron Helin, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, also visited the Observatory in August 2000.
The main purpose of the Minister's visit, on 9 February 2000, was to announce the minor planet `(9140)Deni', named after the former Department of Education for Northern Ireland. The full citation for DENI's asteroid (Minor Planet Circular 34351) is as follows:
``(9140)Deni = 4195 T-3.
Discovered 1977 October 16 by C.J. van Houten and I. van Houten-Groeneveld on Palomar Schmidt plates taken by T. Gehrels. Named after the Department of Education for Northern Ireland for its support of the Armagh Observatory, where Ernst Öpik carried out seminal work on the collisional evolution and dynamics of small bodies. The DENI has promoted lifelong learning and research across many disciplines, encompassing higher education, schools, museums, recreation and culture. It has sought for many years to advance knowledge and understanding of the natural world, and to provide the means by which as many people as possible may appreciate and continue to develop Northern Ireland's rich cultural heritage, its diversity and contributions to the scientific, intellectual and social life of the community.''
In addition to the Minister, several other distinguished guests were present during the naming ceremony, including the former Robinson Lecturer Dr Duncan Steel, former Leverhulme Fellow Dr Victor Clube, and Dr Brian Marsden (Director of the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center). Later that evening, Dr Marsden delivered a public lecture ``Spaceguard in the New Millennium'' to a packed Rotunda Lecture Theatre, in St. Patrick's Trian, Armagh.
The visit by Glo Helin sowed the seed for a later benefit for Armagh. In the 1970s Glo Helin, whose initial interest in asteroids had been stimulated by the work of Armagh astronomer Ernst J. Öpik, initiated one of the first all-sky surveys for planet-crossing asteroids, the Palomar Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey. She is now the principal investigator of one of the USA's leading asteroid discovery programmes, and was keen to revisit the former home of E.J. Öpik, after whom she had named the asteroid (2099)Öpik in 1978. Following her visit to Armagh in August 2000, the Observatory and the City of Armagh were delighted to receive a further asteroidal commendation: the naming of minor planets (10501) and (10502) after the City of Armagh (`Ardmacha') and the Observatory (`Armaghobs') respectively. The names were confirmed in January 2001, and announced to the general public at another naming ceremony held at the Observatory on 14 March 2001.
The 2000 Robinson Lecture (``The Scientific Case for Human Spaceflight'') took place in the Navan Centre, Armagh, on the evening of Friday 3 November 2000. The lecturer, Dr Ian Crawford of University College London, is the author of more than 60 scientific papers and the holder of one of the prestigious PPARC Advanced Fellow awards. His research interests mainly concern the physics, chemistry and dynamics of the interstellar medium, using high-resolution optical spectroscopy; but he has also taken a strong interest in the history and philosophy of science and in the philosophical implications of space exploration and the possibilities of human space flight. His lecture on the latter subject was well received and attended by more than 100 invited guests and members of the public. Popular accounts of the lecture have been written up in Astronomy & Geophysics (39, 6.14-6.17, 1998), Astronomy Now (15, No.4, 65-66, 2001), and Science and Public Affairs (p.4, June 2001).
The Observatory received good coverage in the Armagh and City Council educational CD-ROM ``Armagh a City Through Time'', produced by the Northern Ireland Centre for Learning Resources (NICLR) for the City. John McFarland and Aileen McKee also produced a colour brochure ``A Tour of Armagh Observatory'' for distribution to visitors and other interested parties. Copies of both these items are available on request.
Two Armagh PhD students gave talks to schoolchildren at the 2000 NISTRO Pupil Researcher Initiative Conference ``Express Yourself'', at the King's Buildings, Belfast, on Monday 26 June 2000.