3. Armagh Observatory: the modern era

Eric Mervyn Lindsay
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Fig. 23 Eric Mervyn Lindsay (1907 - 1974).

The modern period of astronomical research really began with the arrival of Dr Eric Mervyn Lindsay as Director in 1937. Lindsay laid plans to enable Armagh Observatory to have access to the best possible photographs of the southern skies. He spearheaded, around 1950, the construction of a 1m telescope at Bloemfontein, South Africa with the cooperation of Harvard University and Dunsink Observatory. Many scientific papers resulted from this collaboration, some of which may be viewed at the exhibition.

Eric Mervyn Lindsay and ADH
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Fig. 24 The Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard telescope at Bloemfontein, South Africa with Dr E.M. Lindsay at the controls.

The ADH telescope was dismantled in 1976, but recently Armagh Observatory has joined a consortium to build an 11m telescope in Sutherland, South Africa, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). This telescope, "Africa's Giant Eye," should be operational in 2005, and Armagh Observatory's contribution entitles it's astronomers to have access to it for a period of 10 years.

SALT
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Fig. 25 An artist's impression of the Southern African Large Telescope, Sutherland, South Africa.
Armagh Planetarium
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Fig.26 Armagh Planetarium. (Ian McKinley).

In the 1940s, Dr Lindsay dreamed of establishing a planetarium in Armagh as a memorial to the American troops who had been stationed in Northern Ireland during the Second World War, and to cater for the growing interest in astronomy. However, it was not until the mid-1960s that he was able to secure sufficient finances to start construction, and he subsequently invited the well-known TV astronomer Patrick Moore to become the first director of the Armagh Planetarium.

EJ Opik
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Fig. 27 Dr Ernst Julius Öpik (1893 - 1985)

While Visiting Professor at Harvard, Dr E.J. Öpik, the Estonian astronomer, was a member of Dr Lindsay's doctoral examination board at Harvard University in 1934. Near the end of World War II, after he had returned to Estonia, Dr Öpik was forced to become a refuge and spent 4 years in a displaced persons camp. News of this reached Dr Lindsay, and he was able to obtain an appointment for Dr Öpik at the Armagh Observatory in 1948. Dr Öpik remained faithfully at Armagh until his retirement in 1981 at the age of 87. In 1951, Dr Öpik was one of the first to calculate the probability of collisions between the asteroids and the major planets. This research field ultimately inspired the production of such movies as Deep Impact and Armageddon. Dr Öpik's grandson, Lembit Öpik MP, remains committed to the understanding of asteroids and the threat that they pose to civilization. Öpik made seminal contributions to many branches of astronomy and astrophysics, including cometary physics and meteors, and the processes involved in the generation of energy within the stars. The minor planet (2099) Öpik was named in his honour by its discoverer, Eleanor Helin.

Last Revised: 2009 November 25th