Observatory Presents Free Public Lectures and Opens for Guided Tours on Saint Patrick’s Day

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St Patrick's Day Events Newsletter
St Patrick's Day Events Programme

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Armagh Observatory is presenting two free public lectures, guided tours of the Observatory Grounds and Astropark, and an exhibition and tour of the historic main building as its contribution to Armagh City and District’s Saint Patrick’s Day festivities on Saturday, 17th March 2012.

The programme of fascinating astronomical talks, "Discovering the Universe", begins with light refreshments at 10:30am in St. Patrick’s Trian, Armagh. Two public lectures are being provided, one on the risk to Earth posed by comet and asteroid impacts with our planet, the other a review of efforts during the eighteenth century to measure the size of our solar system and the role played by very rare planetary transits across the face of our Sun. The next Transit of Venus, the last for more than a hundred years, will be visible from Europe on 6th June this year. The free public lectures will take place in the Rotunda Theatre, St. Patrick’s Trian, Armagh, beginning at 11:00am, and each lasting an hour with time for questions, ending at 1:00pm.

The second part of this special Saint Patrick’s Day programme of astronomical discovery, "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth", begins with a guided tour of the Observatory Grounds, Astropark and Human Orrery, starting outside the main Observatory building at 2:30pm and lasting approximately one hour. Visitors will be able to understand the motivation of Archbishop Richard Robinson in founding the Observatory in 1789, and appreciate the fascinating outdoor exhibits on display in the Astropark. At 4.00pm, also meeting outside the Observatory’s main building, the Observatory will be open for a short, guided tour of the main building, an exhibition explaining the Transit of Venus, and a further opportunity to meet the astronomers and ask questions about their work.

The first astronomy talk, beginning at 11:00am, is by Mr Jay Tate, Director of the Spaceguard Centre, Knighton, Wales. His presentation, "The Science of Armageddon: an Update", will explain how the Earth has a long and violent history of collisions with extraterrestrial bodies such as asteroids and comets, and how some of these impacts have been large enough to cause huge environmental upheavals, mass extinctions of life and severe changes to global climate and geography. Massively more destructive than the most powerful nuclear weapons, such impacts represent the most damaging natural hazard likely to end civilization as we know it. The talk will review the nature and extent of the Near-Earth Object (NEO) impact hazard and bring us up to date with the latest understanding in the field: how the risk can be dealt with and what is currently being done. Jay Tate is one of the world’s leading authorities in this subject, having led efforts over the past fifteen years to highlight the risk to civilization posed by these extreme events and improve public understanding of natural events about which, fortunately, we have no direct experience.

At 12:00, Armagh Astronomer Dr John Butler will provide a contrasting historical talk, "Measuring the Solar System: The Eighteenth Century Transits of Venus". The eighteenth century was a "Golden Age" for science, and many new and important discoveries were made in astronomy. The two eighteenth-century Transits of Venus, in 1761 and 1769, provided a rare opportunity to determine the fundamental unit of astronomical distance: the distance from the Earth to the Sun. The talk will describe how astronomers across the world united in this, the first great international scientific project. It will explain the difficulties they faced in carrying out their observations and their eventual success and the scientific legacy of their efforts.

The tour of the Observatory, beginning at 4.00pm, will include an exhibition of the Transit of Venus, including objects from the Observatory’s collection of historic scientific instruments and artefacts associated with King George III’s observations of the famous 1769 Transit of Venus.

Everyone is welcome to these events. Free tickets for the "Discovering the Universe" presentations are available from Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel.: 028-3752-2928; E-mail: ambnat signarm.ac.uk. No booking is necessary to join the guided tour "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth" or the Observatory tour and exhibition. Meet outside the Observatory at 2.30pm and 4.00pm respectively.

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

Notes for Editors:

1. In January 1997 Jay Tate established Spaceguard UK, which is now the largest independent Spaceguard organization in the world. Thanks to the efforts of the members, the subject of Spaceguard has been publicly debated in both Houses of Parliament, and Tate has been a regular contributor on television and radio, and also in professional and popular journals. He and other members of Spaceguard UK advised the UK Government Task Force on NEOs. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the international Spaceguard Foundation, a consultant to the International Astronomical Union Working Group on NEOs, an associate of COSPAR, the Vice-President of the Space Development Council and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. In recognition of his work the asteroid 2000 DZ12, discovered by the Spacewatch programme in 2000, has been named (15116) Jaytate.

2. Emeritus Research Astronomer John Butler has worked at Armagh for nearly all his astronomical career. He was instrumental in the design and construction of the Astropark, and has led efforts during the past twenty years to conserve and preserve the built heritage of the Armagh Observatory and also to calibrate the unique meteorological record, the longest daily climate series in the UK and Ireland. His research interests encompass cool stars, the effects of solar variability on climate, and the history of astronomy. He is well known for his active involvement in the community of Armagh and for discovering an exceptional flare on the star HD 6090, called "Butler’s star". In recognition of his work the asteroid 1995 CC, discovered by David Asher at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia, in 1995, has been named (26891) Johnbutler.

3. The guided tour "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth" is held in association with the Armagh Public Library’s St. Patrick’s Day "Afternoon on the Hill" events. Those who may prefer to visit the Armagh Public Library, view the exhibition in the recently restored former Registry at No. 5 Vicars’ Hill, and the Church of Ireland Cathedral of Armagh, are warmly invited to meet at 2.30pm at the main door of the Cathedral.

4. Those who wish to see the Observatory Grounds and Astropark should meet at 2.30pm in the car park in front of the main Observatory Grade A Listed Building. The Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute dating back to 1789, and this tour mixes the old with the new. The attractive landscaped gardens, the Astropark and the Human Orrery, will interest all age groups.

Last Revised: 2012 February 27th