Observatory Staff Recognized Internationally

Several members of Armagh Observatory staff have been recognized internationally for their contributions to astronomy, two through membership of professional organizations and others by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which has named four asteroids, or minor planets, after them in recognition of their work. Research Astronomer Stefano Bagnulo has been awarded the position of research associate of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics for his research in planetary science carried out also with Italian collaborators, and Research Technician James Finnegan has been elevated to the grade of Senior Member of the USA-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The IAU has recently named four asteroids after current and former Observatory staff, namely "(9920) Bagnulo", after Stefano Bagnulo; "(8810) Johnmcfarland", after John McFarland, the former Librarian and Public Relations Officer; and "(22275) Barentsen" and "(20994) Atreya", after two of the Observatory’s previous PhD students registered at Queen’s University Belfast, namely Geert Barentsen and Prakash Atreya.

Mark Bailey, Director of the Observatory said: "The Armagh Observatory operates on the international stage and is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland. These awards illustrate the quality of the Observatory’s research and support staff, and it is appropriate that they should be announced this year, the 225th anniversary of the Observatory’s foundation in 1789. My congratulations to them all."

Stefano Bagnulo is an astronomer with a specialist interest in polarimetric techniques applied to magnetic stars and to small bodies, such as comets and asteroids, in the solar system. His asteroid, (9920) Bagnulo, is a relatively large, dark object that orbits roughly halfway between Mars and Jupiter with a period of around 4.7 years. It has a diameter of around 15 kilometres. It is interesting in that it is one of the larger members of the Hoffmeister dynamical family, named after minor planet (1726) Hoffmeister, which is probably the largest member of a small, very compact dynamical family. This was formed as a result of a collision between a carbon-rich parent body and another asteroid, probably as recently as within the last few hundred million years. There are at least 800 known fragments from this collision orbiting in the main asteroid belt.

John McFarland has made a major contribution to promoting astronomy at Armagh. He is well known for his knowledge of the Observatory’s history and for his biography of Kenneth Essex Edgeworth, the Irish astronomer who predicted the existence of large, so-called trans-Neptunian bodies in the region of the solar system just beyond Neptune known as the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt. Asteroid (8810) Johnmcfarland revolves around the Sun in a low-inclination main-belt orbit between Mars and Jupiter. It has a diameter between 5 and 10 kilometres.

Geert Barentsen, now at the University of Hertfordshire, has interests in the origin and evolution of young stars and how they form from their parent molecular clouds in the Galaxy, and in meteor astronomy. He has contributed to developing the field of radio meteor scatter observations and has organized astronomy camps for young meteor astronomers in Belgium. His asteroid, (22275) Barentsen, has a diameter in the range 5–10 kilometres. It circulates in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in a relatively highly inclined elliptical orbit with a period of around 3.7 years. Geert has created an interesting visualisation of the motion of this asteroid as it orbits the Sun, which can be seen here. This asteroid is thought to have a relatively reflective surface composed mostly of iron and magnesium silicates.

Prakash Atreya came to Armagh from Nepal. He is a meteor astronomer and programming specialist now working for the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, which is the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world. He has developed automated routines for video meteor analysis for many networks and has deployed meteor cameras for public outreach in his native Nepal. His asteroid, (20994) Atreya, is approximately 5 kilometres across and revolves around the Sun in a typical low-inclination main-belt orbit, with an orbital period of approximately 3.5 years.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Mark Bailey at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; mebat signarm.ac.uk; URL: star.arm.ac.uk.

Last Revised: 2014 October 13th