Blog 4 – Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

On Sunday 14th July the I-LOFAR Education team, Áine, Jeremy and I, visited Armagh Observatory and Planetarium to help them set up the International Astronomical Union’s 100th Anniversary Exhibition (IAU100).  This exhibition is a journey through some of the most significant and surprising breakthroughs that shaped astronomy, technology and culture over the last century. The exhibition has been travelling around the world and is now here in Ireland for the next few months, starting with Armagh, until the 31st July. After that it is moving onto us here in Birr from Friday 9th to Friday 16th of August and will be displayed in Johns Hall and the I-LOFAR Education Centre. If you can’t make either of those, don’t worry because it will also be going to Dublin, Cork and Galway, so make sure you check it out! 


In the early hours of Sunday morning, we began or journey to Armagh and got there just as the team at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) were beginning set up of the part of the IAU100 exhibit that would be displayed at that venue. Luckily, they had experience with some of the other exhibition pieces and it didn’t take too long for us to get all the parts assembled and in place. The exhibit was really beautiful and informative and I would seriously recommend coming along to one of the venues and taking a look!

When it was all finished we were free to explore the planetarium, which had lots of fun things to do and see. After taking in all the beautiful models of satellites and rockets, and taking photos (playing) with the Astronaut props, we went up to the planetarium dome for a viewing of “Beyond the Blue: A Stargazing Journey”. The show was a beautiful guided tour of the night sky from Ireland during the Summer months, and we were able to lie back in our chairs and take in all the stars! 

The Earth made from 250,000 pieces of Lego

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (aka Jeremy, Áine and Jane)

After the movie the director of AOP, Prof. Michael Burton, gave us a tour of their Astropark, built in 1994. They had a scale model of the solar system, and even a scale model of the universe in logarithmic space called the “Hill of Infinity”! There were also many other features, such as a stone circle to see where the sun sets at different times of the year, a human sundial and a human orrery to model the paths of the planets. Then we were told all about the history of Armagh Observatory and shown a handful of the numerous telescopes the Observatory houses.

The Sun- part of the scale model of The Solar System in the Astropark

A stop on the “Hill of Infinity”

The human orrery at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

Armagh Observatory was founded in 1789 by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh and the Planetarium was opened in 1968 through the efforts of Director Eric Lindsay. The observatory was the second to be established in Ireland (the first being Dunsink where we visited the week before) and is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland. It houses a number of old telescopes and observing domes, such as the Troughton Equatorial Telescope and the 15 Inch Grubb Refractor. The oldest telescope in the world still in its original position is in Armagh Observatory! The third director of the Observatory, Thomas Romney Robinson, invented the cup anemometer, used to measure wind speed. He remained director for 59 years and which is a world record for an observatory director that stands today. He was succeeded by J.L.E. Dreyer, who had previously been assistant astronomer at Birr Castle and compiled the “New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars” (or NGC catalogue). It remains to this day the principal catalogue of nebulae and galaxies used by astronomers worldwide. 

After the interesting history lesson and tour we headed into Armagh city and got some well-earned food. When we were as full as possible, we had a look at some of the other locations the IAU100 Exhibition is being displayed in around Armagh and then headed for home! 


Armagh Observatory and Planetarium was an excellent day out with lots of unique things to do and see, which I would highly recommend. We are now very excited here in Birr for the IAU100 Exhibition to be passed onto us. Make sure you come visit us at Johns Hall and the I-LOFAR Education Centre between 9th and 16th of August. Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival will also be taking place from the 2nd to the 10th of August, so make sure to check it all out!


Blog Post written by Jane Dooley. Jeremy Rigney and Áine Flood can be found at @jeremyrigney and @AineFlood1 respectively.