Astronomers Present Saint Patrick's Day Events

Discovering the Universe

Astronomers at Armagh are presenting two public St. Patrick's Day events as part of the holiday festivities in Armagh City on Thursday 17th March 2011.

The first, "Discovering the Universe", comprises two public lectures, one on our Sun and the other on the formation of our Milky Way galaxy. The public lectures will take place in the Rotunda Theatre, St. Patrick's Trian, Armagh, beginning with tea and coffee at 10:30 and ending at 13:00.

The second, "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth", takes place in the grounds of the Observatory between 14:30 and 15:30 and will feature a free, guided tour of the Observatory's Astropark and Human Orrery and a chance to meet the astronomers.

At 11:00 Professor Louise Harra, from University College London, will give a presentation called "Mapping the Sun". The Sun has an activity cycle of around 11 years; at the peak of this cycle many solar storms occur, each one ejecting mass into the solar system greater than that of Earth's Mount Everest. Understanding the Sun's activity is important for all sorts of reasons including potential blackouts and disruption to the satellite systems that we depend upon for navigation and communication. During the past few years the Sun has been in a period of unusually low activity. The talk will discuss the impact of this behaviour and show how the Sun is slowly emerging out of its slumber. Data from a number of spacecraft will be shown including the Hinode, STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory missions.

At 12:00 Dr Vasily Belokurov, from the University of Cambridge, will give a presentation called "Formation of our Milky Way". It might seem strange, but astronomers think that most of the matter in our Galaxy does not emit light as our Sun does but instead comprises so-called "dark matter". This dark matter is thought to extend to large distances, perhaps up to a million light years, in the form of a large halo surrounding our galaxy's main disc and spiral arms. However, the halo is not completely dark: there are quite a few "prehistoric" stars that fell into the Galaxy when it formed billions of years ago. These stars were born in smaller neighbouring galaxies to our own, at very early epochs within several hundred million to a billion years of the Big Bang, and they provide astronomers with important information about the physical conditions in the Universe at that time. This talk will describe the properties of the Milky Way's stellar halo and how these observations inform our understanding of the origin of our Galaxy and the role played by "dark matter" in the formation process.

Everyone is welcome to both events. Free tickets for the "Discovering the Universe" presentations are available from Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel.: 028-3752-2928; E-mail: ambnat No booking is required to join the second event "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth"; meet outside the Observatory at 14:30.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-jmfat

Notes for Editors:

1. Professor Louise Harra Obtained a BSc (Hons) degree in Applied Maths and Physics (1990), followed by a PhD in solar spectroscopy (1993) from Queen's University, Belfast. She subsequently moved to Japan as a resident scientist for the Yohkoh spacecraft; then to University of Birmingham as a PDRA; and then (1999) to University College London's Mullard Space Science laboratory on a PPARC Advanced Fellowship. After leading the solar physics group for a number of years, she is now director of the Institute of Origins and a professor of solar physics. Louise Harra is the Principal Investigator (PI) of the EIS instrument on the Hinode spacecraft and co-PI of the imager on the future Solar Orbiter mission.

2. Vasily Belokurov is a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and the recipient of the Fowler Prize of the Royal Astronomical Society. Vasily obtained his first degree at the Relativistic Astrophysics Department of Moscow's Sternberg Astronomical Institute (1999) and later studied for the PhD in Theoretical Physics at Oxford (2003). His research is a mixture of theory, observations and data mining, and his interests are in Galactic Structure, Galactic Dynamics and Dark Matter.

3. The guided tour "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth" is held in association with the Armagh Public Library's St. Patrick's Day "Afternoon on the Hill" events, part of the "Robinson Heritage Trail" programme. Those who wish to see the Armagh Public Library, St. Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral, and the recently restored former Registry at No. 5 Vicars' Hill, should meet at 14:30 at the main door of the Cathedral.

4. Those who wish to see the Observatory Grounds and Astropark should meet at 14:30 in the car park in front of the main Observatory Grade A Listed Building. The Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute dating back to 1789, and this tour mixes the old with the new. The attractive landscaped gardens, Astropark and Human Orrery will interest all age groups.

Last Revised: 2011 February 21st