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Observatory Celebrates Grants Success

Armagh Observatory is celebrating its success in obtaining grants worth in excess of 1 million pounds from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to support three postdoctoral research assistants in solar and stellar astrophysics and three postgraduate students over a period of three to five years. The grants will fund research on high-mass stars and the investigation of the Sun using spacecraft observations, as well as supporting the Observatory's general research programmes in astronomy.

Dr Jorick Vink obtained a 3-year grant for his work on a project to understand the evolution of massive stars including state-of-the-art mass loss predictions that are appropriate for understanding the early Universe, while Professor Gerry Doyle obtained two 3-year grants for a joint atomic/solar physics project.

With the recent launch of the Japanese spacecraft, Hinode, and the forthcoming NASA mission the Solar Dynamics Observatory in 2008, the Sun will be scrutinised as never before. The proposed research seeks to exploit the remarkable opportunities for new observations that these spacecraft will provide, as well as connecting them to current space-borne instruments using the space observatories, SoHO and TRACE. This research will look closely at the underlying atomic processes responsible for forming certain spectral lines in the Sun's atmosphere and open the door to observing many small-scale transient explosive events from less active regions of the solar atmosphere, to understand the connection between them and their effect on heating the Sun's corona or outer atmosphere.

Massive stars are up to a million times brighter than the Sun and are seen out to large distances - potentially offering a window on the early Universe. One factor determining the evolution of a massive star is how quickly it loses mass during its lifetime. The amount of mass loss depends critically on the chemical environment. Since the Big Bang only produced the light elements, hydrogen, deuterium and helium, heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen - critical for forming life - must be synthesised in the cores of massive stars and returned to the surrounding medium through the process of mass loss.

Our predictions will be made for stars with the composition of the early Universe and will determine whether these objects form black holes or instead explode as supernovae or gamma-ray bursts - the most energetic cosmic explosions since the Big Bang.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Gerry Doyle or Jorick Vink at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jgdat signarm.ac.uk; jsvat signarm.ac.uk

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Last Revised: 2008 March 6th
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