The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1789 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, the Observatory is one of the UK and Ireland's leading scientific research establishments. Around 25 astronomers are actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth's climate.
The Observatory’s main role is astronomical research. Key areas of study are Solar Physics; the Solar System; Solar-Terrestrial connections and climatology; Stellar Activity; Star Formation; Stellar Evolution. However, important responsibilities also relate to delivering 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. These support many areas of government policy, particularly those directed towards improving the economy, education and lifelong learning and the social and cultural life of the community.
Examples of tackling societal challenges included the European Universe Awareness UK programme, which was project managed by the Armagh Observatory. This initiative aimed to use the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to inspire young children and encourage them to develop an interest in science and technology. A child's early years are widely regarded to be the most important for their development and education. The idea behind EU-UNAWE is to educate children aged 4-10 years about astronomy, because it embodies a unique combination of scientific and cultural aspects. Our awe-inspiring Universe captures the imagination of children, making it a great stepping-stone to introduce youngsters to science and technology. Indeed, many scientists can trace their interest in science to a moment as a young child when they were first introduced to the wonders of the cosmos. Considering the vastness and beauty of the Universe and our place within it provides a special perspective that can help broaden the mind and stimulate a sense of global citizenship and tolerance.
The programme therefore aimed to introduce children to the idea of global citizenship and tolerance at a crucial stage of their development – to show them that they are part of an international community. Until the advent of UNAWE, there were no large scale attempts to use astronomy as a tool for inspiring and educating young children. Therefore, while resources are open to all, the programme was aimed at young children, especially those from underprivileged communities.
A further initiative was OASES 'Over us all is the selfsame sky' - a programme which brings science and art together to advance cross-community and cross-border networking in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.