GRANT: The position is tenable for three years, the level of grant being based on the United Kingdom Science and Technology Facilities Council rate ( currently £13,590 per annum).
RESPONSIBLE TO: The designated PhD Supervisor.
CONTACT ADDRESS: Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG, Northern Ireland, UK. Tel: +44-(0)28-3752-2928; FAX: +44-(0)28-3752-7174; web-site:

The Post

The Armagh Observatory receives baseline support from the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), and receives regular awards of telescope time and research grants from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and other organizations. Facilities for computing and data reduction are excellent. Further details about the Observatory and the possible research topics can be obtained from the Observatory web site.

The fixed-term postgraduate studentship position is available for suitably qualified candidates for three years starting 2012 September/October. Candidates must have, or expect to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree or the equivalent in an appropriate discipline (e.g. Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy or Astrophysics). Successful candidates will register for a PhD at an appropriate university (often Queen’s University Belfast), and the PhD student will normally carry out a research programme based at the Armagh Observatory. Enrolment for a PhD will be in accordance with the regulations of the governing university. This will typically involve enrolment in the first year for the degree of MPhil., with subsequent enrolment for a PhD being permitted in the second year following successful completion of a differentiation or transfer procedure and evidence of satisfactory progress in the first year in accordance with university regulations.

In addition to pursuing an individual research programme, the PhD student may be asked to carry out other duties commensurate with the position, and will also be expected to play a full part in various Observatory activities. The Student must be prepared to undertake astronomical field trips, which may occur at unsocial times, and to attend astronomical conferences and other meetings for training or to present research results.

Research students will be expected to contribute to the public understanding of astronomy and related sciences and to promote the activities of the Armagh Observatory at both national and local levels whenever circumstances permit. There may also be opportunities to become involved in a small amount of teaching, for example the delivery of occasional popular lectures or the supervision of work-placement or work-shadowing students from secondary schools.

Supervision and Assessment

Each postgraduate student will normally be assigned a first supervisor who will be a senior member of the Armagh Observatory research staff, and a second supervisor who will normally be a full-time academic member of the University where the student is registered. Performance will be assessed around the middle of the first year, and the assessment used to inform the differentiation process from MPhil. to PhD.

In addition to meeting the regulations of the university at which students are registered, the Armagh Observatory postgraduate programme includes training in research methodology (e.g. literature searches, use of computer databases, writing papers etc.), and the development of communication skills through the presentation of informal talks and colloquia.

Students are obliged to attend the Armagh Observatory seminar programme and astronomical discussion meetings, which together provide at approximately weekly intervals an introduction to a wide range of new astronomical results and concepts. Students must also attend training courses at the University of their enrolment.

Students are also required to comply with all Observatory policies, rules and regulations, details of which will be provided by the Observatory Administration at the commencement of the studentship.

Overseas Students

Overseas students whose first language is not English must provide evidence of competence in written and spoken English as well as meeting the other entrance requirements. An acceptable result is a satisfactory score in a recognized test of English Language competence, for example the British Council International English Language Testing System (ELTS) score or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). If students do not have a satisfactory level of English language competence, then they are required to attend an appropriate English Language course. Overseas students must satisfy all UK Border Agency (UKBA) requirements for entry into and residence in the UK.

Application Procedure

Applicants should obtain an application pack from the Administrator or via the Observatory web-page:, and send the completed application form (.doc or .pdf version) plus a full Curriculum Vitae as soon as possible to: The Administrator, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh BT61 9DG, Northern Ireland, UK. (Tel: +44-(0)28-3752- 2928; FAX: +44-(0)28-3752-7174; e-mail: jcdat Applicants are requested to ensure that References also reach the Administrator in time for the application to be considered at selection.

Applicants may obtain the application materials online or as a .pdf file, which may be printed out, completed and posted to the above address.

Dates to Remember

The Armagh Observatory is fortunate in attracting strong candidates for specific vacancies. First selection will take place as soon as possible after 2012 February 24, with subsequent selections thereafter until all positions have been filled.

Candidates are advised to ensure that their completed application forms, full curriculum vitae and references are returned as soon as possible in the selection cycle. All applications will be acknowledged.

In making the appointment we will adhere to the timetable set out below, unless you are subsequently notified otherwise.

INITIAL CLOSING DATE: 2012 February 24, and periodically thereafter
START DATE: 2012 September/October

General Information

The Vision of the Armagh Observatory is:

"To build on its position as a thriving astronomical research institute, and to continue to expand our understanding of the Universe and of humanity's place in it."

The Mission is:

"To advance the knowledge and understanding of astronomy and related sciences through the execution, promotion and dissemination of astronomical research nationally and internationally in order to enrich the intellectual, economic, social and cultural life of the community."

The Armagh Observatory (see is a modern astronomical research institute, the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland. Founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1789 as part of his dream to see the creation of a university in the City of Armagh, the Observatory stands close to the centre of the City of Armagh together with the Armagh Planetarium in approximately 14 acres of attractive, landscaped grounds known as the Armagh Astropark. The Observatory Demesne, Grounds and Astropark, which are developed and maintained by Observatory staff, include scale models of the Solar System and the Universe, two sundials and two historic telescopes, as well as telescope domes and other outdoor exhibits (see A new public outreach facility, the Human Orrery (see, is located close to the historic main building of the modern Observatory. In addition, the Observatory’s Library and Archives, and its specialist collection of scientific instruments and artefacts associated with the development of modern astronomy over more than two hundred years, rank amongst the leading collections of their kind in the UK and Ireland. In recent years more than 25,000 records have been added to the on-line, publicly accessible library database, with many linking to associated images or digitised documents. The library catalogue with over 3,000 entries is also on-line.

The principal function of the Armagh Observatory is to undertake original research of a world-class academic standard that broadens and expands our understanding of astronomy and related sciences. Staff at the Observatory also have secondary, but no less important, responsibilities to (i) promote, preserve and widen access to the heritage of astronomy at Armagh (the Observatory is the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland with a heritage spanning the development of modern astronomy over more than 200 years); (ii) maintain the continuity and precision of the daily weather readings at Armagh (the Observatory contains the longest daily climate series from a single site in the UK and Ireland, stretching back nearly 220 years); and (iii) pursue a vibrant programme of Science in the Community in support of the Northern Ireland Executive's STEM Strategy and the strategic goals of the DCAL's Learning Strategy. Taken together, these activities feed into many areas of government policy, particularly those directed towards improving the economy, education and lifelong learning and the attractiveness of Northern Ireland to national and international visitors.

There is currently a fluctuating population of around 30 research staff including students and short-term visitors, who are supported by a pool of technical and administrative support staff: two computer/IT specialists, one librarian/public relations officer, the director's PA/group secretary, one finance officer, and a senior administrator shared 50% with the Armagh Planetarium. The 14 acres of landscaped Observatory Grounds and Astropark and the daily meteorological readings are maintained by a senior grounds/meteorological support officer, responsible for taking the daily meteorological readings, and an assistant grounds officer.

Research interests of Observatory staff are currently focused on three key areas of astrophysics, namely: Solar-System Science, Solar Physics, and Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics. Solar-System research encompasses the dynamical structure, evolution and origin of objects in the inner and outer solar system and comparative planetology and meteor physics. Solar research uses data from spacecraft such as SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), Hinode, Stereo and SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory), and from ground-based facilities such as the Dunn Solar Telescope at Sacramento Peak Observatory and the New Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory, to study fundamental questions such as how the Sun's outer atmosphere is heated, what drives the solar wind and the Sun's variable magnetic activity and its resulting effect on the Earth's climate. Stellar and Galactic research includes a wide range of investigations into the formation and evolution of stars, taking into account factors such as mass loss through stellar winds, studying stellar oscillations, stellar magnetic fields, extreme chemical abundances, understanding the details of accretion physics and conducting wide-field surveys to discover a diverse range of astrophysically important short-period variable stars. These research themes illustrate the Observatory's primary long-term research function. The projects are often funded by external (i.e. non-DCAL) funding agencies with lead times of typically a year or two; they are normally led by an individual Research Astronomer and often require up to 3—5 years for completion.

In addition, Observatory staff participate in a vibrant and wide-ranging programme of Science in the Community through lectures, popular astronomy articles, supervision of school work-experience students and undergraduates, and interviews with the press, radio and television. Further details concerning recent and current research interests of Armagh Observatory staff may be obtained from the Observatory web-site, at

Armagh Observatory staff regularly obtain telescope time on national and international facilities, such as the ESO Very Large Telescope ( and various spacecraft missions (such as SoHO, SDO, Hinode, Stereo, Swift, XMM-Newton, and Hubble Space Telescope), and attract research grants from various grant awarding bodies (e.g. the STFC, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Trust, British Council etc). The Observatory is also a member of the UK SALT Consortium (UKSC), providing access to the 11-metre diameter Southern African Large Telescope (SALT: see, located at the Sutherland Observatory, South Africa. Complementing these international facilities, restoration of the Observatory’s historic telescopes and the provision of a new robotic telescope at Armagh has brought opportunities to reintroduce some professional observing from Armagh, while new computer and camera technology has enabled a variety of other automatic observational programmes to be introduced from Armagh, recording data autonomously whenever the sky is clear.

Computer facilities are used primarily for numerical analysis, computer modelling and data reduction; the computers and peripherals are largely funded by te DCAL, but occasionally by external research grants, for example those funded by the STFC, The Leverhulme Trust and various EU grants. Staff have access to a number of powerful iMac workstations and Linux workstations, as well as the Stokes supercomputer at the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) and, through ICHEC, to occasional advanced computer training programmes. In addition, the Observatory has two high-performance computer systems: one ('Polar') with 4 x 64-bit AMD Opteron processors each having 16 cores giving a total of 64 processing units; the other ('Eddington') with 2 x 64-bit Intel Xeon processors each having 8 cores giving a total of 16 processing units. These computing resources are used mainly for computationally intensive research projects in observational and theoretical astrophysics (including data reduction and modelling) in areas such as solar physics, stellar atmospheres, stellar winds, radiation hydrodynamics, numerical magneto-hydrodynamics, and solar system dynamics. In addition, the Observatory has over 100 TB of on-line storage capacity. The internal network is a 1 Gbps backbone ethernet linked with switched hubs and the external network is connected to the Joint Academic Network (JANET) through a 100 Mbps link provided through the Observatory's participation in the Northern Ireland Regional Area Network (NIRAN).

In addition to the institution’s primary research role, the Observatory has an important responsibility to maintain and preserve the fabric of the historic buildings, the library, historic books and archives, and the collection of scientific instruments and other artefacts built up over nearly 220 years of continuous astronomical activity in Armagh. The main historic buildings of the Observatory have unique architectural features and house one of the most valuable collections of scientific books, instruments and archives in Northern Ireland. Full details about the Armagh Observatory and its current research and other activities can be obtained from recent annual reports, at

Sample PhD research Projects

Brief outlines of several possible projects are provided in the linked pages. For further information, or possible alternatives in the same general subject area, please contact the indicated supervisor at the Armagh Observatory. A basic requirement for all projects is a good background in physics, mathematics and computing. All projects involve some computation of numerical models; several also involve the acquisition and reduction of astronomical observations.

Title Supervisor
Polarimetry of the objects of our solar system and beyond Stefano Bagnulo
Modelling of stellar magnetic fields Stefano Bagnulo
Data-Mining of the Armagh Observatory Meteor Database Tolis Christou
Transient radio sources: Input to the SKA Gerry Doyle &
Gavin Ramsay
How the solar atmosphere is energized? Gerry Doyle &
Maria Madjarska
Asteroseismology and the evolutionary origin of hot subdwarfs Simon Jeffery
The evolution of stellar remnants Simon Jeffery
Fast and slow solar wind origins from the quiet Sun and coronal holes Maria Madjarska &
Gerry Doyle
Time Domain Astrophysics Gavin Ramsay
Theory: Mass loss and Death of the first stars in the Universe Jorick Vink
Finding disks around the most luminous stars Jorick Vink

Last Revised: 2011 December 6th