New Research at Armagh Observatory to Receive £0.5M Grant

Armagh Observatory has got some New-Year cheer following an announcement by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) of a new three-year grant amounting to more than £500,000. The Principal Investigator of the grant, Professor Gerry Doyle, says that the Observatory's research programme focuses on projects in which the Observatory has a recognized international leadership role in addressing key science priorities identified by recent Programmatic Review of the STFC's Astronomy and Solar System Advisory Panels.

The main research interests of Observatory staff are focused on the Solar System, the Sun itself, and the properties and life cycles of other Stars, including the role of stars as tracers for our understanding of the wider Universe.

In the Solar System, Observatory staff study the distribution, evolution and origin of meteors, comets, asteroids, dwarf planets and moons, as well as properties of the major planets. They make observations of the Sun using spacecraft and ground-based telescopes to investigate solar flares, sunspots and jet-like structures in the Sun’s atmosphere. Astronomers also pursue a wide range of studies in the formation and evolution of stars, including the effects of stellar winds that remove mass, oscillations that reveal their internal structure, magnetic fields and extreme chemical abundances that tell us much about their history, and surveys of large areas of the sky to discover new variable stars.

One project funded by the new grant will study the evolution of stars that collide or merge with other stars. In this case, Professor Simon Jeffery’s team will study the results of mergers between very old stars, or white dwarfs. Such mergers can produce a more massive star with a new life of its own — a star re-born — becoming one of the most exotic stars in the Galaxy, or it may result in a gigantic explosion called a supernova. These rare events can be used to probe the most distant parts of the Universe.

Another project will investigate how to test models of the early evolution of our solar system using studies of groups of asteroids called "Trojans", which orbit at the same average distance from the Sun as one or another of the main planets. This work, led by Dr Apostolos Christou, will shed new light on processes affecting the physical and dynamical evolution of near-Earth asteroids, that is, asteroids that might collide with Earth. The rare Martian Trojans are particularly useful for this work, as they have similar sizes (several hundred metres to several kilometres across) to those of many observed near-Earth asteroids, but their long-term evolution is not significantly affected by planetary encounters.

The Armagh Observatory website includes a database containing the Armagh climate record and a graphical inventory of minor objects in the Solar System, a fraction of which represent a potential Earth-impact hazard. The website also carries a wide variety of other materials including video recordings of public lectures, virtual tours of the Observatory and its rare books collection, and extensive pages relating to our research profile. Research at Armagh Observatory is supported by grant-in-aid from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Gerry Doyle at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jgdat

Last Revised: 2015 January 26th