General Information

The Vision of the Armagh Observatory is:

"To build on its position as a thriving astronomical research institute, and to continue to expand our understanding of the Universe and of humanity's place in it."

The Mission is:

"To advance the knowledge and understanding of astronomy and related sciences through the execution, promotion and dissemination of astronomical research nationally and internationally in order to enrich the intellectual, economic, social and cultural life of the community."

The Armagh Observatory (see http://star.arm.ac.uk/) is a modern astronomical research institute, the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland. Founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1789 as part of his dream to see the creation of a university in the City of Armagh, the Observatory stands close to the centre of the City of Armagh together with the Armagh Planetarium in approximately 14 acres of attractive, landscaped grounds known as the Armagh Astropark. The Observatory Demesne, Grounds and Astropark, which are developed and maintained by Observatory staff, include scale models of the Solar System and the Universe, two sundials and two historic telescopes, as well as telescope domes and other outdoor exhibits (see http://star.arm.ac.uk/astropark/). A new public outreach facility, the Human Orrery (see http://star.arm.ac.uk/orrery/), is located close to the historic main building of the modern Observatory. In addition, the Observatory’s Library and Archives, and its specialist collection of scientific instruments and artefacts associated with the development of modern astronomy over more than two hundred years, rank amongst the leading collections of their kind in the UK and Ireland. In recent years more than 25,000 records have been added to the on-line, publicly accessible library database, with many linking to associated images or digitised documents. The library catalogue with over 3,000 entries is also on-line.

The principal function of the Armagh Observatory is to undertake original research of a world-class academic standard that broadens and expands our understanding of astronomy and related sciences. Staff at the Observatory also have secondary, but no less important, responsibilities to (i) promote, preserve and widen access to the heritage of astronomy at Armagh (the Observatory is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland with a heritage spanning the development of modern astronomy over more than 200 years); (ii) maintain the continuity and precision of the daily weather readings at Armagh (the Observatory contains the longest daily climate series from a single site in the UK and Ireland, stretching back nearly 220 years); and (iii) pursue a vibrant programme of Science in the Community in support of the Northern Ireland Executive's STEM Strategy and the strategic goals of the DCAL's Learning Strategy. Taken together, these activities feed into many areas of government policy, particularly those directed towards improving the economy, education and lifelong learning and the attractiveness of Northern Ireland to national and international visitors.

There is currently a fluctuating population of around 30 research staff including students and short-term visitors, who are supported by a pool of technical and administrative support staff: two computer/IT specialists, one librarian/public relations officer, the director's PA/group secretary, one finance officer, and a senior administrator shared 50% with the Armagh Planetarium. The 14 acres of landscaped Observatory Grounds and Astropark and the daily meteorological readings are maintained by a senior grounds/meteorological support officer, responsible for taking the daily meteorological readings, and an assistant grounds officer.

Research interests of Observatory staff are currently focused on three key areas of astrophysics, namely: Solar-System Science, Solar Physics, and Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics. Solar-System research encompasses the dynamical structure, evolution and origin of objects in the inner and outer solar system and comparative planetology and meteor physics. Solar research uses data from spacecraft such as SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), Hinode, Stereo and SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory), and from ground-based facilities such as the Dunn Solar Telescope at Sacramento Peak Observatory and the New Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory, to study fundamental questions such as how the Sun's outer atmosphere is heated, what drives the solar wind and the Sun's variable magnetic activity and its resulting effect on the Earth's climate. Stellar and Galactic research includes a wide range of investigations into the formation and evolution of stars, taking into account factors such as mass loss through stellar winds, studying stellar oscillations, stellar magnetic fields, extreme chemical abundances, understanding the details of accretion physics and conducting wide-field surveys to discover a diverse range of astrophysically important short-period variable stars. These research themes illustrate the Observatory's primary long-term research function. The projects are often funded by external (i.e. non-DCAL) funding agencies with lead times of typically a year or two; they are normally led by an individual Research Astronomer and often require up to 3—5 years for completion.

In addition, Observatory staff participate in a vibrant and wide-ranging programme of Science in the Community through lectures, popular astronomy articles, supervision of school work-experience students and undergraduates, and interviews with the press, radio and television. Further details concerning recent and current research interests of Armagh Observatory staff may be obtained from the Observatory web-site, at star.arm.ac.uk.

Armagh Observatory staff regularly obtain telescope time on national and international facilities, such as the ESO Very Large Telescope (http://www.eso.org/outreach/ut1fl/) and various spacecraft missions (such as SoHO, SDO, Hinode, Stereo, Swift, XMM-Newton, and Hubble Space Telescope), and attract research grants from various grant awarding bodies (e.g. the STFC, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Trust, British Council etc). The Observatory is also a member of the UK SALT Consortium (UKSC), providing access to the 11-metre diameter Southern African Large Telescope (SALT: see http://star.arm.ac.uk/SALT/), located at the Sutherland Observatory, South Africa. Complementing these international facilities, restoration of the Observatory’s historic telescopes and the provision of a new robotic telescope at Armagh has brought opportunities to reintroduce some professional observing from Armagh, while new computer and camera technology has enabled a variety of other automatic observational programmes to be introduced from Armagh, recording data autonomously whenever the sky is clear.

Computer facilities are used primarily for numerical analysis, computer modelling and data reduction; the computers and peripherals are largely funded by te DCAL, but occasionally by external research grants, for example those funded by the STFC, The Leverhulme Trust and various EU grants. Staff have access to a number of powerful iMac workstations and Linux workstations, as well as the Stokes supercomputer at the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) and, through ICHEC, to occasional advanced computer training programmes. In addition, the Observatory has two high-performance computer systems: one ('Polar') with 4 x 64-bit AMD Opteron processors each having 16 cores giving a total of 64 processing units; the other ('Eddington') with 2 x 64-bit Intel Xeon processors each having 8 cores giving a total of 16 processing units. These computing resources are used mainly for computationally intensive research projects in observational and theoretical astrophysics (including data reduction and modelling) in areas such as solar physics, stellar atmospheres, stellar winds, radiation hydrodynamics, numerical magneto-hydrodynamics, and solar system dynamics. In addition, the Observatory has over 100 TB of on-line storage capacity. The internal network is a 1 Gbps backbone ethernet linked with switched hubs and the external network is connected to the Joint Academic Network (JANET) through a 100 Mbps link provided through the Observatory's participation in the Northern Ireland Regional Area Network (NIRAN).

In addition to the institution’s primary research role, the Observatory has an important responsibility to maintain and preserve the fabric of the historic buildings, the library, historic books and archives, and the collection of scientific instruments and other artefacts built up over nearly 220 years of continuous astronomical activity in Armagh. The main historic buildings of the Observatory have unique architectural features and house one of the most valuable collections of scientific books, instruments and archives in Northern Ireland. Full details about the Armagh Observatory and its current research and other activities can be obtained from recent annual reports, at http://star.arm.ac.uk/annrep/.

Last Revised: 2012 May 23rd