Armagh ambassadors were afforded a real treat on Tuesday February 16th with guided tour of Armagh Observatory followed by a jaw dropping digital Theater show in the Planetarium.
First stop was the Observatory which is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage and has around 25 astronomers based there, studying stellar astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System, astronomy and the Earth’s Climate. The Observatory is located close to the city center adjacent to the Planetarium and sits on approximately 14 acres (57,000 m2) of landscaped grounds known as the Armagh Astropark, and was founded and endowed in 1789 by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh who wished to establish a University of Ulster in Armagh. Whats really interesting is that previous attempts were made to set up a University by Archbishop Dowdall in 1558, also queen Elizabeth in 1583, and the Earl of Tyrone in 1599, but all without success.
Richard Robinson was quite an inspirational figure born in 1708 to a high society Yorkshire family. He was educated at Westminster school, Oxford and came to Ireland in 1751 as Chaplain to Lord Lieutenant of Dublin, the duke of Dorset. In 1752 he was consecrated Anglican bishop of Killala and Achonry. He moved diocese a couple of times, first to the See of Ferns and Leighlin and later Kildare before been elevated to the Archbishopric of Armagh in 1765. Story has it that he was known as the second founder of Armagh and not surprisingly considering his longstanding contribution to Armagh. He initiated many building projects in the Armagh, including the Palace( now known as the Armagh City & District Council Offices) the Public Library, the Military Barracks and the County Infirmary. He also laid the foundation stone of the new site of the Royal School together with providing the site for the prison, and made the town Commons, a racecourse, into public walk-way (now the Mall). In 1789 and now in his eighties, he commenced the construction of Armagh Observatory which would be his last completed building in Armagh and he did so from his own personal finances.
The main block of the Observatory was the residency of the Astronomer and his family. Ernst Julius Öpik (grandfather of Lembit Öpik MP) was based there for over 30 years and among his many contributions to astrophysics he wrote of the dangers of an asteroid impacting on the Earth, something that is been realised in today’s world. It’s a fascinating place to visit and very interesting with scaled models of the Solar System and the Universe, two sundials and historic telescopes, as well as telescope domes and other outdoor exhibits. The Human Orrery launched in 2004 and is located close to the main Observatory building. The Observatory’s specialist library and archives, hosts collections of scientific instruments and artifacts associated with the development of modern astronomy and represents one of the leading collections of its kind in the British Isles.
Before leaving the Observatory we were introduced to the Human Orrery which is a dynamic model of the solar system. It was really interesting and all ambassadors got an opportunity to play the role of the moving planets. The model provides an accurate map of the orbits of the six classical planets, two comets and shows their relative positions at any time. The Human Orrery was constructed to a scale in which one metre on the ground represents one, “astronomical unit” in space, for example the distance of the Earth from the Sun. The scale of the map is 1:150 thousand million, or 1:150 Billion.
In order to determine the speed of the the planets and their orbits we were positioned on a specific single orbit and then move from one orbit to the next. When others around you do the same , it demonstrates their actual speeds.The Orrey is the first large scale outdoor exhibit to show with precision the elliptical orbits and changing positions of the main solar system bodies with time and their place in the wider Universe.The outer rings of the Orrey contains the names of the thirteen elliptical constellations through which the Sun passes in the course of a year, and direction indicators or “signposts” to a variety of other objects in the Universe. Its a must visit for everyone…
Next up was a visit to the Planetarium where met with Martina Glass who would be our tour guide. She provided us with a unique experience which was quite simply “out of this world” (excuse the pun) Martina introduced us to the Planetarium’s amazing Digital Theater Show and encouraged us to relax and experience our planet and beyond. We also got a glimse of the night sky, and discovered some of the myths behind the star constellations. It was a show like no other with the surrounds so impact-able that you could actually lose yourself to reality. The show was a memorable experience and one that I will treasure for life, however just when we thought it was over Martina had another surprise up her sleeve,as she took us on a roller coaster ride of our lives. It was so impressive you felt as if you were actually on-board, so much so, to the point that most ambassadors had butterfly’s in their tummies from the display of virtual reality…
Finally it was time to retreat to one of the carefully designed meeting rooms for a well deserved cup of tea/coffee and scone of course. Once settled we were introduced to Dean Coppard the chef of Uluru Bar & Grill which is Michelin Guide recommended and award winning restaurant offering fantastic cuisine with a unique Australian twist. Dean was rather refreshing to listen to and spoke eloquently of need to promote Armagh for all it has to offer. I think the moral of his story was “Together we are Stronger” together we can scream from the tree tops about the beauty Armagh has to offer, and not just from a food point of view but also the other amazing attractions. Dean pointed out that Armagh is the Ecclesiastical Capital of Ireland and a place of significance to stimulate and satisfy the soul, and from his point of view, having come from Australia he referred Armagh as having the most friendliest welcoming people on the planet and something we should be very proud of…Don’t forget to visit the ambassadors facebook page and leave us a comment….Now grab yourself a coffee, sit back and enjoy a small taste of what to expect when visiting the planetarium