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ARMAGH OBSERVATORY CONNECTS TO ALL-IRELAND COMPUTER PROGRAMME

Armagh Observatory, 21 December 2001:
The Republic of Ireland Higher Education Authority has announced a grant of IEŁ9 million to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) for research into the Computational Physics of Natural Phenomena. Joint partners in the project are the Armagh Observatory, Dublin City University, the National University of Ireland at Galway, University College Dublin, HEAnet, Met Éireann and Grid Ireland. The Armagh Observatory's contribution, led by astronomers Simon Jeffery and Gerry Doyle, is to develop new computational tools to study the atmosphere of the Sun and other stars.

The joint project will use the very latest ideas in computational science to build and exploit a computer network --- or grid --- much more powerful than the internet. Computers will communicate with one another using the grid, and computing power will become a commodity just like electricity. The computers and computer programs will often be located many miles away from one another and will exchange information with one another using new types of software, all unseen by the user.

The DIAS-led project will establish a set of supercomputers across Ireland that will be directly linked to one another and to other computer systems on the grid. Armagh astronomers will be able to turn on a workstation, connect to the grid and get on with the science of understanding the Sun and stars, knowing that the computer power necessary for their work will be provided automatically.

The Armagh Observatory will receive funding for research staff to develop computer models of the solar transition region --- the region just above the visible surface of the Sun and below its extremely hot corona. This puzzling part of the Sun presents us with many questions, not least why it is hotter than the visible surface, and how heat is transferred through it towards the even hotter solar corona. Understanding these problems will help us understand plasmas, and will involve making detailed models of the evolution of hot gases in moving magnetic fields. These models will be combined with precise atomic data in order to calculate the amount of light emitted, so as to compare the result with observations of the Sun from spacecraft like SOHO and TRACE, and to improve the model.

Simon Jeffery said "This is a tremendous opportunity for the Observatory to be working at the cutting edge of both astronomical research and computing technology."

Other natural phenomena to be studied by the consortium include modelling shocks in the hot so-called `interstellar' medium beween the stars; the structure and evolution of supersonic jets blowing out from stars and galaxies; hyperdense neutron stars; dust in the Earth's atmosphere and the Earth's climate; and the geological structure of the Earth's core and its rocks.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Simon Jeffery or Mark Bailey at the Armagh Observatory (Tel.: 028-3752-2928 [W]; 028-3751-1084[H]); e-mail csj@star.arm.ac.uk or meb@star.arm.ac.uk; Web-Site: http://star.arm.ac.uk/

Last Revised: 2002 January 2nd
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