The Armagh Observatory, founded in 1789 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, is a modern scientific research institute with a rich heritage. Around 25 astronomers are researching Solar-System Astronomy, Solar Physics, Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics, and Solar System Earth relationships. It maintains the longest daily climate series in the UK and Ireland, and one of the longest from a single site in the world. The Observatory is located together with the Armagh Planetarium in approximately 14 acres of attractive, landscaped grounds known as the Armagh Astropark. The Grounds and Astropark contain scale models of the Solar System and the Universe and a wide range of flora and fauna. Of particular interest are the Human Orrery, two sundials, and historic telescopes and telescope domes.
A walk around the Astropark is a stroll through the Universe. Here, you can discover the relative distances and sizes of the rocky inner planets and the gaseous outer planets. Beyond the “hypercube”, you go on a journey beyond our Galaxy, past galaxies and clusters of galaxies to the origin of our Universe nearly 14 billion years ago. There are interpretation panels and leaflets to aid further understanding. The Human Orrery, is located close to the historic Grade A listed main Observatory building. It is the first outdoor exhibit in the world to show with precision at any time the relative positions of the six classical planets in our Solar System, two comets (1P/Halley and 2P/Encke) and the first asteroid, namely (1) Ceres, discovered on January 1, 1801. The Grounds, Astropark and Human Orrery are freely open to visitors during daylight hours every day. Group guided tours can be arranged by appointment.
Under the directorship of Terence Murtagh in the 1970s, Armagh Planetarium introduced many new technologies. Murtagh recognised the possibility of exploiting the new technology of video projectors to provide the show’s special effects, eliminating entirely the need for dozens of slide projectors. Video tape recorders were very new and rare at this time and this research was very ambitious with many technical hurdles standing in the way. Off-the-shelf video projectors had to be optically and electronically modified to present natural-looking images of celestial bodies on the dome. The system he introduced remained in place until computer controlled laserdisc players replaced the videotape players in the 1980s. This development was a great success and Armagh Planetarium was the first planetarium in the world to project video on its dome. Other planetaria around the world followed this lead. Armagh Planetarium pioneered the introduction of an electronic audience participation system. This allowed the audience to control the show themselves. Each seat was fitted with a small keypad, using this device the audience could use their buttons to respond to multiple choice quizzes in the show, be polled on their preferences and even steer the direction of the show by selecting the topics. Space Odyssey, created in Armagh in the 1980s and scripted by Ian Ridpath, was the world’s first ever completely interactive planetarium show. This innovation has spread to planetaria worldwide.
Before reopening on 31 July 2006, Armagh Planetarium underwent a major refurbishment. The building was totally refurbished to make it more comfortable and environmentally friendly. These improvements saw the complete rebuilding of the Digital Theatre to accommodate 93 visitors and the installation of a new Bose Corporation stereo sound system, an advanced LED lighting suite and a Digistar 3 fulldome video projection system. Armagh Planetarium maintains an outreach programme. Planetarium staff travel to venues such as schools and science festivals to deliver presentations on astronomy and other sciences. A thirty-seat inflatable planetarium is used for most of these visits. Armagh Planetarium has used a series of projectors of increasing sophistication and capability. The first projector was the Goto Mars (1968-1977), an example of advanced 1960s technology. It included individual lamps to project images of the Sun, Moon and planets. This was followed by a Viewlex-Minolta Roman IIb (1977-1994), which is still in use in its current home at South Downs Planetarium in England. The first digital projector installed in Armagh was an Evans and Sutherland Digistar 1 (1994-1995). Armagh was the first planetarium in the UK to use this new technology but it was soon replaced by the even more advanced Digistar 2 (1995-2006). The latest Digistar 5 is a new state-of-the-art computer system projecting full-colour fulldome video across the entire dome.
The Planetarium has aquired a small lunar meteorite. It joins their Martian meteorite as a unique sample of another Solar System world. They also have a 140kg nickel iron meteorite, this is the one of the largest meteorites of its type on public display in Ireland and visitors are encouraged to touch it. At an amazing 4.5 billion years old, this is the oldest thing you'll ever touch. Meteorites like this are the leftovers of the Solar System; the stuff that planets are made from.
Disabled parking is available in close proximity to the building. The Main Reception has a wheelchair accessible counter. There is ramp access to all parts of the ground floor of the main building. A lift at the front of the building allows access to the first floor and the Digital Theatre. Dedicated viewing areas are available for wheelchair users within the Theatre. Two unisex, wheelchair accessible toilets in the building, one on the ground floor and one on the first floor. An Induction Loop is available for those who require Assisted Hearing, facilities available in both the Digital Theatre and the reception area. All main signs in the building have information duplicated in braille, as do the lift controls. Guide dogs and Assistance dogs are welcome, but please remember that the noise and light levels in the Exhibition Area and Theatre vary greatly and this may be unsettling.
Location : College Hill, Armagh, County Armagh BT61 9DG
Transport: Portadown (NI Rail) then bus (270). Bus Routes : 61, 250, 251, 270 and 271 stop close by.
Opening Times Planetarium: Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00. Click here for digital theatre showtimes.
Tickets Digital Show: Adults £6.00; Seniors/Children under 16 £5.00
Tickets Guided Tour: £8.00 per person.
Tel: 028 3752 2928