Armagh Robotic Telescope Opened

Poster

Mr Alastair Hughes (DCAL) and Councillor Jim Speers,
Mayor of Armagh City and District Council, in front of
the new Armagh Robotic Telescope

Poster

Prof. Mark Bailey, Mr Alastair Hughes and Prof. Simon Jeffery
in front of the new Telescope Dome

Armagh Observatory’s new Robotic Telescope was formally opened in a ceremony at the Observatory on the morning of Friday 4th March. The invited guests included a representative from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Armagh City and District Council, the Joint Secretaries of the North/South Ministerial Council, astronomers from Queen’s University Belfast and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and representatives from the Irish Astronomical Society and the Irish Astronomical Association. The telescope was funded with £101,000 from the Northern Ireland Executive, through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Observatory, said that whereas astronomers routinely use large-scale telescopes abroad and in space, advances in modern technology now mean that it is again possible to carry out important scientific observations from Armagh. Astronomy is a key element of Northern Ireland’s scientific heritage and one where both the Observatory and Queen’s University Belfast have strong international reputations. He also emphasized the role of astronomy as an imagination driver. "There is an inspiration in astronomy and in observing the sky that is often overlooked, namely that we all experience or 'share' the same night sky. The sight of a really clear view of the night sky can be a humbling, sometimes life-changing experience. The impact of our view on the Universe is arguably the most important factor that has affected the development of every civilization and society on Earth, at whatever time and in whatever place".

Project scientist Professor Simon Jeffery added that the new telescope would support observations made elsewhere, explore the structure and evolution of stars, discover and track objects in our solar system, and join the search for other worlds. The telescope is designed to work automatically so as to make maximum use of the clear-sky opportunities offered by our capricious weather, and is an extremely powerful instrument in its own right: "In just 60 seconds, it can detect stars 10,000 time fainter than those visible to the naked eye". He also emphasized that delivering a fully functioning scientific instrument of this quality has been a team effort. "Many people have made important contributions, provided advice and given encouragement, but two individuals should be singled out for particular thanks, namely Geoff Coxhead, the Observatory’s hardware and software engineer, and assistant astronomer Jack Wright."

Mr Alastair Hughes, the DCAL representative speaking on behalf of Minister Nelson McCausland, highlighted the Department’s continuing support for the Observatory and its international research role as well as in delivering the DCAL’s new Learning Strategy and the wider plans of Government to promote greater uptake and interest amongst young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the key STEM subjects that underpin so much of our modern economy.

Construction of the dome commenced a year ago and was completed last summer. The telescope was installed in November and the camera in January this year. On 1st February 2011 the telescope obtained its first images, including the spectacular Andromeda galaxy and the Pleiades star cluster.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Simon Jeffery or John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; csjat signarm.ac.uk or jmfat signarm.ac.uk; URL: star.arm.ac.uk

See also:

First Images

More photographs from the opening

Last Revised: 2011 March 8th