Astronomy provides a singular perspective on our place in the Universe, addressing fundamental questions such as the origin of the Earth, the origin of Life, and `Are we Alone?'. Research into astronomy plays an increasingly important role in the whole of modern society, for example by:
Important research areas currently under investigation include: (1) climate change -- the Observatory holds a unique 200-year long meteorological record; (2) involvement in the international programme to detect, and increase public understanding of potentially hazardous comets and asteroids; (3) involvement in construction of the 10-metre class Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). Complementing this active research role, the Observatory is also committed to the preservation and presentation of its valuable scientific heritage and related scientific ideas.
Astronomy is also a key culture activity. It enjoys a high public profile in the printed and electronic media, and in books and film, for example in Hollywood classics such as 2001: a Space Odyssey, and through blockbusters such as Armageddon and Deep Impact. The fruits of astronomy have inspired scientists, poets, authors, and philosophers, and have provided the basis for works of art, musical composition, and theatrical performances.
Astronomy also provides a valuable primary resource for exhibits in science centres, among them the National Space Science Centre in Leicester, the new science centre in the Belfast Odyssey Complex, and the Armagh Planetarium. Astronomical topics provide primary source material for education, entertainment and leisure. The subject is featured in books, magazines and television documentaries seen by millions worldwide.