The AOP, or Armagh observatory and planetarium, carries out research in a range of areas in astrophysics. This includes our sun and solar system, stars and galaxies, and the Earth’s climate – different aspects of the weather and atmosphere have been measured there since 1794.
The observatory opened in 1970 and the planetarium opened in 1968, so there is over 200 years of history at the AOP. In the 19th century they primarily focused on positional astronomy; cataloging and measuring stars, nebulae and galaxies. Now, the focus has switched more to astrophysics and relating their findings to what we can study and experiment with on Earth.
Birr Castle is home to not only I-LOFAR, the Irish addition to the international LOFAR network of telescopes, but also the Leviathan of Parsonstown which was the world’s biggest telescope for 75 years.
William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was an astronomer who built the Leviathan in 1845. This telescope could pick out separate galaxies in the form of nebulae, and could have identified the first galaxies. William’s wife, Mary Rosse, was an incredible woman with a huge variety of interests, including astronomy, architecture and engineering. She was a pioneering photographer and some of the pictures she took were used in the reconstruction of the Leviathan in the 1990s.
Dunsink observatory is currently part of the DIAS (Dublin institute for advanced studies). It was opened in 1785, as the first building in Ireland specifically constructed for scientific purposes. Now, it’s mainly used for holding stargazing events and public talks from both professional and amateur astronomers.
The most notable director, William Rowan Hamilton, was one of Ireland’s best mathematicians and scientists – he discovered a form of algebra named quaternions, which contributed to the development of quantum mechanics, and his research also helped in the development of dynamics and optics.
Blackrock Castle, Cork
Blackrock Castle observatory is aimed towards interactively educating families and children about space and the potential of extraterrestrial life. It has Ireland’s first interactive theatre, called The Comet Chaser, where people can make scientific decisions to divert a comet that’s coming towards Earth.
There is also a research team dedicated to studying different astronomical objects, such as extrasolar planets, near Earth objects, Quasars and gamma ray bursts. They use the CCD photometry technique to analyse the brightness of stars and other objects, such as for the changes in brightness which can indicate the existence of a new planet.
Watcher South Africa
The Watcher Telescope is located at Boyden Observatory. It’s the first Irish robotic telescope located at a high quality astronomical site – developed by University College Dublin, University of the Free State Bloemfontein in South Africa, Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain and the Astronomical Institute in Czech Republic. The telescope primarily observes the prompt optical emission and afterglow emission of gamma ray bursts, as well as other short-lived astronomical observations.
With 200 clear nights a year, the telescope is activated from the Gamma-ray Coordinates Network (CGN). The CGN distributes the coordinates of gamma ray bursts and other transients so that telescopes like the Watcher can observe them, and the quickest response time from this telescope is 22 seconds.