Wednesday, 8 August 2007


The annual celestial fireworks show provided by the Perseid Meteors is now under way! Meteors are popularly known as 'falling stars' or 'shooting stars'. Of course they are not stars at all, but they just look like a star shooting across the sky, or sometimes appearing to 'fall' from it. They are caused by tiny little bits of material given off by a comet, in this case Comet Swift-Tuttle, colliding with our atmosphere at very high speed, and burning away in the streak or flash of light which we see as a meteor.
There are some already visible each night, but the numbers seen will increase noticeably from about 8/9 August until the night of maximum on 12/13 (Sun-Mon) August. In excellent sky conditions one might see up to about 60-70 meteors per hour just before dawn when the radiant is highest.
Observers in Ireland are slightly better favoured than those in GB, as the dawn occurs later here, giving up to about 30 minutes of extra observing time.
Perseid meteors are quite fast, with a fairly high proportion of bright meteors. As the name implies they appear to come from the constellation of Perseus, which will be rising higher in the North East part of the sky as the night progresses. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but most will appear to come from the NE part of the sky. And there will be no moonlight this year, giving excellent observing conditions - if we get clear skies, of course!
To see them at their best, choose as dark a location as possible from which to observe: a really dark site will more than double the number of meteors you will see! Also, allow time for your eyes to adapt to the dark - allow at least 10 minutes after exposure to white light before you can expect to see many meteors, and after about 30 minutes you'll be able to see as many as sky conditions allow. You don't need any optical aid - just your eyes, a comfortable lounger or reclining chair, and some warm clothes or a rug.
Most meteors will be seen after midnight, up to the start of local dawn twilight, but you should see at least some soon after the sky gets dark on Sunday evening.
If you are lucky, you may see some much brighter than any of the stars in the sky!
The number of meteors drops away after August 12/13, but some should still be seen up to about August 15/16.

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The annual celestial fireworks show provided by Comet Swift-Tuttle is now under way - better known as the Perseid Meteor Shower. There will be a gradual build up of activity over the next week, and then meteor rates will rise quite noticeably until the night of maximum on 12/13 (Sun-Mon) August, with the actual time of maximum about 03.00 BST on the 13th. In excellent sky conditions an experienced observer should be able to see about 70-80 meteors per hour just before dawn when the radiant is highest.
Observers in Ireland are slightly better favoured than those in GB, as the dawn occurs later here, giving up to about 30 minutes of extra observing time close to the time of maximum activity.
Perseid meteors are quite fast, with a fairly high proportion of bright meteors, some of which leave persistent 'trains' or trails. As the name implies they appear to come from the constellation of Perseus, not far from the famous 'Double Cluster', which lies about halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia. For your non-astronomical friends, just say that they appear to come from the North East part of the sky in the late evening, and a bit higher up in the East as the night progresses into Monday morning.
The Moon will not interfere at all this year, giving excellent observing conditions, - in clear skies, of course!
The Irish Astronomical Association will be having a "BBQ + Perseid Party" at Delamont Country Park, on the A22, between Killyleagh and Downpatrick, on Sunday evening, 12 August, commencing at 8 p.m. We will finish the cooking & eating by about 9.30, allowing time to clear away, & set up loungers & telescopes & do some twilight observing of Jupiter before the sky gets dark enough for meteor observing.
If you intend to come you MUST be there no later than 9 p.m., as the gates will be closed for access from then on. You can get out OK at any time, as the gates open automatically on exit. We will be observing from the car park area beside the picnic tables, on your right shortly after you enter the park from the main road.
Usual IAA BBQ rules apply - Free, but bring your own food, drinks, plates, cutlery, cups, glasses, chair etc if you wish: we will provide the cooking facilities only.
For observing, bring a lounger if you have one, and plenty of warm clothes, and a RED, not a white, torch! And if you have to leave while others are still observing, drive on sidelights only until you are out of the park. Also, park your car so that you are facing in the direction in which you will leave, with the gears in neutral or forward, so that you don't have to reverse, with your bright reversing light coming on automatically.
If you are observing from nearer home, choose as dark a location as possible: a really dark site will more than double the number of meteors you will see!
If you get any good photos, send them in to our website:


Armagh Planetarium has three brand new shows for the summer, including one specially written for children, called Secret of the Cardboard Rocket. It shows how children build their own space ship to explore the Solar System. After the show they can try their hand at rocket building using our top secret plans and experience astronaut training on the gyroscope. If they still have some energy left they can try out Ireland’s first interactive floor, and stomp on alien bugs, avoid alien crabs, and leave their footprints on the Moon! The more artistic little aliens will enjoy making their very own colourful Martians to take home.

Armagh is the only place in the UK where you can see our second blockbuster summer show, Dawn of the Space Age. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of mankind’s first artificial satellite that flew in space. In October 1957 the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 into Earth orbit. This started a competition between the US and the USSR, the so-called Space Race in the midst of the Cold War. Dawn of the Space Age is a stunning experience; it records the many space firsts that were logged by both nations. This show faithfully recreates the rocket launches and shows the early space craft in amazing detail. You can experience many of the problems that the first astronauts and cosmonauts overcame, and how close many of the early exploits came to disaster. And right up-to-date, you can see the launch of Space Ship One which is an early model of the first tourist space ships that will reach the edge of space.

Our final new summer show is our very popular in-house Pole Position. This is a live show, narrated by one of our staff members: it shows Planetarium audiences the amazing things that are to be found in the summer night sky, including the constellations, deep space nebulae, massive globular clusters and spectacular galaxies, all experienced in full colour in our immersive all-dome Digital Theatre.

Afterwards take a break to refuel in our Voyager café, before heading outside to Armagh Observatory’s Astropark, where you can stroll from the Sun to Pluto and on to the edge of the universe, or try your hand - or I should say feet - at the amazing 'Human Orrery'. Open Daily July and August 11.30am-5.00pm

Booking is Essential: Tel: 028 3752 3689.


Adults £6.00 per show

Children (under 16)/Senior Citizens (65 yrs +) £5.00 per show

Family Concession Rate £18 (for maximum 2 adults plus 3 children)

Group Rates (more than 20 people) £5.00 per person

Exhibition Area Only £2.00 per person


Summer Evening Tours of the Armagh Observatory Grounds, Astropark and Human Orrery

Dr Miruna Popescu and Armagh Observatory PhD students and others are providing, on an experimental basis, a programme of evening guided tours of the Observatory Grounds and Astropark during July and
August 2007. The next events will take place on Tuesday 14th August and Tuesday 28th August. Those who wish to participate in these tours should meet Miruna and the other Tour Guides at the main Armstrong School entrance to the Observatory Drive, beside the Courthouse, shortly before 7.00 pm when the tour begins.
Car parking is available outside the Observatory main building on in the car park halfway up the Observatory Drive. The Tour on Tuesday 28th August will include an illustrated public talk on the Sun, given in the Observatory Library, by Miruna Popescu, as well as a general question-and-answer session on astronomy.
These events are held as part of the summer programme in conjunction with other members of the Armagh Visitor Education Committee (AVEC), and as part of the Observatory’s contribution to the International
Heliophysical Year 2007/2008 (IHY2007/2008).