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Apart from being a city associated with religion, Armagh is the home of the world-acclaimed Armagh Planetarium located close to the city centre and neighbouring the Armagh Observatory in approximately fourteen acres of landscaped grounds known as the Armagh Astropark. The Planetarium is noted for the vision and innovation that has led the world in this field.
Armagh Planetarium was established by the seventh director of Armagh Observatory, Dr. Eric Mervyn Lindsay, who, after twenty five years of effort, secured funding from local councils and the Ministry of Commerce of Northern Ireland in 1965.
In the same year Patrick Moore, later of BBC fame, was appointed as Director of the Planetarium to oversee its construction. The planetarium cost 70 000 to build (included in this was 12 000 for the planetarium s first projector) and was opened to the public on 1 May, 1968. Since then it has undergone many alterations: the main building was extended in 1974 to incorporate the Lindsay Hall of Astronomy, and a dome was created to house a 16″ (400 mm) reflecting telescope for public use, currently the largest public telescope in Ireland. In addition, in 1994 a new exhibition hall, the Eartharium, was added due to increased interest in Earth Science.
The Armagh Astropark, which opened in 1994, is a scale model of the solar system and the Universe contained in the grounds of the Armagh Observatory, with scale-sized stainless steel models of the sun and the planets.
Under the directorship of Terence Murtagh in the 1970s, Armagh Planetarium introduced many new technologies. Murtagh recognised the possibility of exploiting the new technology of video projectors to provide the show s special effects, eliminating entirely the need for dozens of slide projectors. Video tape recorders were very new and rare at this time and this research was very ambitious with many technical hurdles standing in the way. Off-the-shelf video projectors had to be optically and electronically modified to present natural-looking images of celestial bodies on the dome.
The system he introduced remained in place until computer controlled laserdisc players replaced the videotape players in the 1980s. This development was a great success and Armagh Planetarium was the first planetarium in the world to project video on its dome. Other planetaria around the world followed this lead.
Armagh Planetarium pioneered the introduction of an electronic audience participation system. This allowed the audience to control the show themselves. Each seat was fitted with a small keypad, using this device the audience could use their buttons to respond to multiple choice quizzes in the show, be polled on their preferences and even steer the direction of the show by selecting the topics. Space Odyssey, created in Armagh in the 1980s and scripted by Ian Ridpath, was the world s first ever completely interactive planetarium show. This innovation has spread to planetaria world-wide.
Before reopening on 31st July 2006, Armagh Planetarium underwent a major refurbishment. The building was totally refurbished to make it more comfortable and environmentally friendly. These improvements saw the complete rebuilding of the Digital Theatre to accommodate 93 visitors and the installation of a new stereo sound system, an advanced LED lighting suite and a full-dome video projection system.
Armagh Planetarium maintains an outreach programme. Planetarium staff travel to venues such as schools and science festivals to deliver presentations on astronomy and other sciences. A thirty seat inflatable planetarium is used for most of these visits.
On the 7th December 2006, the Armagh Planetarium building was dedicated to the memory of Eric Lindsay in a ceremony led by Archbishop Robin Eames.
This is as fine a planetarium as you are likely to see in the entire world and continues to invoke ground breaking technology and innovation to ensure its legendary status. Do not miss this for an incredible experience!