Reaching for the stars

 

Sir, – Hugh Oram’s Irishman’s Diary (December 4th) correctly highlights the distinguished astronomical heritage that Ireland has in our observatories at Dunsink, Armagh and Birr.

At these facilities, Irish astronomers developed novel detectors and telescopes, conceived of new mathematical techniques, discovered previously unseen astronomical objects and tracked the motion of stars across the night sky.

A noteworthy contribution was the development of a tracking mirror by Thomas Grubb in Dublin, which was used at the 1919 solar eclipse in Brazil to prove Einstein’s theory of gravity correct. That discovery was made possible by an innovative mirror system manufactured by the Grubb Telescope Company, and which is now on display at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at Dunsink Observatory.

And these discoveries were not just of interest from an astronomical perspective. They enabled us to set time accurately in Ireland until 1916, led to the development and mass-production of high-quality mirrors and lenses, and gave the computer gaming industry mathematical techniques to describe how objects move in 3D.

In more recent times, Irish astronomy has been reignited with the construction of large radio telescope called the Low Frequency Array (Lofar) at Birr Castle in Co Offaly, and Ireland joining one of the world’s leading astronomical facilities, the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

With these modern observatories, Irish astronomers are back at the leading edge of international astronomical research. These facilities will again enable us to make new and exciting discoveries that will transform our understanding of our universe and develop new technologies that will help us in our everyday lives. – Yours, etc,

Prof PETER

T GALLAGHER,

(Director,

Dunsink Observatory),

Dublin Institute

for Advanced Studies,

Dublin 2.