Friday 3rd February 2023 Ireland and the Herschels – Some Surprising Connections

Image of Michael Burton in front of the Armagh Observatory and the Troughton Dome, where the oldest telescope in the world still in its original dome resides: credit (c) Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

Friday 3rd February 2023 7.30 pm from Northern Ireland and can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom.

Professor Michael Burton
Director, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus in 1781– the first new planet found by humanity since antiquity – made him famous overnight.  It is just one of many discoveries – by William, Caroline and John – that have left their impact on science. 
Less well known are the Irish connections to their astronomical endeavours.  Inspired by the discovery of Uranus, Archbishop Richard Robinson (who knew Herschel in Bath), the Primate of All-Ireland, founded Armagh Observatory in 1790.  Armagh is now the longest running observatory in the British Isles continuously used for astronomical research.  The famous NGC Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars was compiled in Armagh in 1888, following on from John Herschel’s General Catalogue, using a telescope that still works today. 
Motivated by Herschel’s building of the “40 foot”, the 3rd Earl of Rosse built his 6-foot diameter Leviathan at Birr Castle in Ireland in 1845, so succeeding it as the worlds’ largest telescope.  His son, the 4th Earl, followed Herschel’s discovery of infrared radiation from the Sun by making the first observation of the infrared with a telescope – finding it was also emitted by the Moon, so beginning the field of infrared astronomy.
The connections between the Herschels and Ireland are multifarious.  Armagh Observatory and Planetarium’s Director, Professor Michael Burton, will expand on some of them.  His own research career can be said to be following in the Herschels’ footsteps.  It began in Edinburgh studying cosmic sources of infrared radiation using one of the first telescopes specially built for the infrared – the UKIRT in Hawaii.  So important has the field now become that the James Webb Space Telescope – the most expensive telescope in history – was built specifically to observe the cosmos in the infrared.
In past decade Michael has been studying the structure of our Galaxy – another field started by the Herschel’s – using radio telescopes in Australia to map giant clouds of molecules where stars are forming.  His talk will also touch on this work and reflect on the profound effect the Herschel’s have had on astronomy today.

A recording of this lecture is freely available here.