Pocket Britain
Britain > N.Ireland > Co. Armagh > Armagh Planetarium

Leave Northern Ireland behind and fly off into space

Listen to this article


Projection Shows
Interactive Displays
It took 25 years of hard campaigning before the funds to build a planetarium in Armagh were finally granted. The complex was completed three years later in 1968, 14 months before man first stepped on the moon. Its first director was Sir Patrick Moore, a popular TV figure and easily Britain's most famous astronomer.

Did You Know?

In 1625, James Ussher, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, claimed he had worked out when the world was created - the night preceding Sunday, 23rd October 4004 BC.
The planetarium doesn't actually undertake research itself. It doesn't discover new stars and it doesn't publish papers. The real purpose of the facility isn't really astronomy, but astronomy education. This is a fact the staff do their very best to hide from visiting children. The little ones are taught all sorts of useful things without them ever realising what's going on. This sneaky technique is nicknamed "learning by stealth", and it works extremely well. The staff even have an inflatable planetarium, which they take on visits to local schools.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Since its inception, the organisation has always kept up-to-date with the very latest in projection technology. For a long time that meant analogue slide projectors, but they were too noisy, and their bulbs were too hot. Their staff were determined to discover the perfect alternative though. For a while they personally adapted dozens of normal, consumer video players until they could display realistic stars. This was the first planetarium in the world to project video onto its dome, an achievement that was soon copied around the globe. Here in the 21st century, the best star projector money can buy is called Digistar. It looks rather like a spaceship and, with its startlingly sharp display, you'll half wonder if the device has somehow flown you up into the sky. Armagh is the only place in Ireland that you can see this state-of-the-art system.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Another innovation is the idea of audience participation. This began as early as the 1980s, when viewers could determine the direction of the show by pushing a keypad next to their seat. At the start of each projection, the staff would have no idea what was about to happen. The planned shows are just as varied, with subjects ranging from star constellations to asteroid crashes. One recent film is narrated by David Tennant, an actor who previously explored all of space and time as Doctor Who, in the BBC sci-fi drama. Some shows are designed specifically for very small children, with no periods of prolonged darkness. There are even some occasions when the projections have nothing to do with space. In 1973, for example, you could come here to watch the wedding of Princess Anne.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board

Did You Know?

The Sun is roughly 400 times larger than the Moon. But the Sun also happens to be 400 times further away than the Moon. This has created an amazing coincidence and the reason why both the Sun and Moon appear the same size in the sky.
Outside of the dome theatre are plenty of other exhibits, starting with the best photographs ever taken of our universe. Interactive displays help people find exactly the details they're after. Most visitors end up so curious about the solar system that they want to fly up there themselves. Luckily, a new attraction lets you both design and launch your own rocket. If you try hard, perhaps you really can make it up into space.
An easier method of getting into space is to simply walk outside. The planetarium is surrounded by Amargh Astropark, a scale model of our galaxy. Stainless steel representations of the sun and planets show the proper distances between each celestial body. You get this strange sense of just how tiny earth really is.
Visitor Information
Armagh Planetarium is open Monday to Saturday, times vary according to the time of year, but roughly 1pm to 5pm. Show prices are around £5. Armagh Planetarium, College Hill, Armagh, Co. Armagh, BT61 9DB. Tel: 028 3752 3689

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy