The Observatory is a principal point of contact for astronomy amongst the mass media (press, radio and television), and plays a major role in the promotion of astronomy and public understanding of science both locally (i.e. within Armagh City and District and Northern Ireland) and abroad. Astronomers at Armagh receive (and deal with) numerous questions from the general public, and are frequently invited by the national and international media to provide expert advice on recent research results or discoveries. These contacts often lead to articles or citations in the national and international press, and to sound-bites and media clips on radio and television.
The number of identified mentions of the Armagh Observatory and its staff in various mass-media has increased rapidly during the past few years, from about 10 in 1994 to more than 230 in 1999 and 2000. During the past five years the number has averaged in excess of 250 per year, substantially above the current target figure of 200. It should be emphasized that this is an extremely high figure for a small research group for which the promotion of astronomy is a secondary activity; moreover, the Observatory does not employ a press officer nor a public relations agency, nor does it have access to a cuttings service. The results under this aspect of the Observatory's education and public outreach programme have been obtained merely by encouraging the Librarian and other staff to be proactive in presenting astronomy to the general public and to be available for comment by the press and others on request.
It is noteworthy that many of the identified citations (some 25-30%) are in the local press (e.g. the Ulster Gazette, Armagh Observer etc.), some of which have among the highest local impact factors in the UK. However, a substantial number of citations are also in media such as radio and television, and the national and international press, while others are in specialist or technical magazines and on the internet. The breakdown of known media citations versus type of publication is shown in Table 5. Many of the newspapers and radio or television programmes that mention astronomy at Armagh reach millions of people simultaneously, and it is clear that every year many tens of millions of people are being exposed to information about the Armagh Observatory or its research. The number of known media citations in 2004, namely 282, comfortably exceeded the current target of 200 for the sixth year in a row.