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Observatory Robinson Medallist Delivers Schools Lecture in Armagh

Robinson Schools Lecture 2006

The four schools-competition winners receiving their prizes from
Professor Eric Priest (Armagh Observatory Robinson Medallist)
and Professor Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory.

On Thursday, 23rd November Professor Eric Priest FRS, the 2006 Armagh Observatory Robinson Lecturer, delivered a lecture entitled "Our Wonderful Sun" in The Royal School Armagh. The schools lecture continues a tradition in which the biennial Robinson Lecturer has, in addition to a main public lecture, delivered a talk to Northern Ireland school children. The Royal School Armagh hosted the lecture, which was attended by more than 140 pupils from schools throughout Northern Ireland.

Professor Priest is one of the world's leading experts in solar physics, with research interests focusing on our Sun's outer atmosphere and how it is affected by strong, rapidly changing magnetic fields. Understanding the evolution of cosmic magnetic fields lies at the heart of many exotic phenomena in the Universe, and studying our Sun's magnetic field provides us with a "laboratory" in which we can test our ideas against high-resolution data from space and ground-based observatories. The lecture provided an introduction to many of the amazing properties of the Sun, its atmosphere, and effects on the Earth.

It began by noting how, centuries ago, societies such as the ancient Egyptians had worshipped the Sun. Even the element "helium", discovered by Sir Joseph Lockyer in 1868, takes its name from the ancient Sun-god Helios. Today largely as a result of modern, space-based observations, we know that the Sun is even more puzzling than was previously thought. Many of its fundamental properties (which have important implications for the rest of astronomy) are still not fully understood. These puzzles were explained using the latest images and movies. Professor Priest also described the outflow of material from the Sun known as the solar wind, and the effects of solar storms such as flares and coronal mass ejections on communication satellites and the Earth's upper atmosphere.

The Sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, can only be observed from the ground during a total solar eclipse, and Professor Priest described a trip that he took earlier this year to Egypt, as well as a ride on a camel, where he watched the total solar eclipse from near Alexandria. The Schools Lecture was accompanied by a competition for the best essay on the Sun. Staff from the Royal School Armagh and the Armagh Observatory judged the essays, and after the talk Professor Priest presented the authors of the best three essays with book-token prizes. These were awarded to pupils from St. Patrick's Academy Dungannon, the Royal School Armagh, and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Eric Priest also gave an in-depth treatment of the same topic, "Our Enigmatic Sun" in the 2006 Robinson Lecture, held in the Church of Ireland Synod Hall, on Friday 24th November. In a short ceremony before the lecture, Archbishop Robin Eames presented him with the Robinson Medal, so becoming the eighth recipient of this biennial award.

Robinson Lecture 2006

Professor Eric Priest receiving the Armagh Observatory Robinson Medal
from Archbishop Robin Eames and Professor Mark Bailey.

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.

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Last Revised: 2006 November 28th
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