The Exploration Dome

Look Up For Science!!

This month and next, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Exploration Dome, in schools in Laois and Longford, as part of our free school outreach programme, which is supported by Rethink Ireland and partners such as SAP and Arup. These workshops allow students to experience the wonders of the universe from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about our place in the universe.

Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences as early civilisations in history made very methodical observations of the night’s sky. These included the Chinese, Maya, Babylonians and many more including the Irish. You can check out our video exploring space as Gaeilge here.

Astronomy comes from a Greek word which means the science that studies the laws of the stars. Astronomy includes maths, physics and chemistry and it studies everything that originates beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy is one of the sciences in which amateurs play an active role, particularly with regards to the discovery and observation of transient events such as comets and asteroids. Astronomy clubs are located throughout the world and the Midlands has a very active Astronomy Club. You can find more details about them on Facebook.

One branch of amateur astronomy, astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects, types of objects, or types of events that interest them. A famous Astro-photographer is Dr Brian May, better known as the amazing guitarist with Queen. He was working on his Phd on zodiacal dust when his music career took off and he went back to Imperial College, London to finish is Phd over 30 years and many hit records later!! As well as writing up the previous research work he had done, May had to review the work on zodiacal dust undertaken during the intervening 33 years, which included the discovery of the zodiacal dust bands by NASA. After a viva voce, the revised thesis (titled “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud”) was approved in September 2007, some 37 years after it had been commenced. His Instagram account regularly features his astronomy observations and photos taken using his very large telescope at his home in the UK.

Although, we know more now that we ever have about the universe, there’s still a lot of unsolved questions in astronomy and perhaps some budding Astro-physicists in the midlands may solve these questions in the future ! Answers to these may require the construction of new ground and space-based instruments, and possibly new developments in theoretical and experimental physics. What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? How did the first galaxies form? What really happens beyond the event horizon? Is there other life in the Universe?

Lots of interesting discoveries about astronomy have been made in the midlands at Birr Castle Demense, which today hosts a LOFAR telescope. You can learn more about Birr Castle’s heritage in astronomy on birrcastle.com. The gardens now include a solar trail which allows you to experience the size, distance and scale of the Solar System along the 2km route. The Demense is also home to I-Lofar, the Irish station of a European-wide network of state-of-the-art radio telescopes, used to observe the Universe at low frequencies.

Astronomy continues today to provide us with more and more information about the universe and our place in it. Innovation in space exploration has given us everything from foil blankets, scratch resistant glasses, memory form to fire-proof clothes. So look up and appreciate all astronomy has given us. As Stephen Hawking said “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”