Funding helps Blackrock observatory to reach for the stars

CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork is to make more of its space, having secured €35,000 in funding from Science Foundation Ireland.

The money will go towards making a visit to the historic castle more hands-on for children, said Dr Niall Smith, head of research at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), which conducts astronomical research there.

“It wil help us to install interactive exhibits for children and families to complement the digital side of the exhibit. The exhibits will be concerned with light, magnetism and sound, and they will help children to understand the fundamentals of science.

“Magnetism protects us from cosmic radiation from the sun, for example, while hard discs in computers store information through magnetism. We intend to have the exhibits installed within a few months.”

In another development, the observatory is due to expand its Tara project (www.projecttara.com) to allow children use the internet to remotely operate a telescope at the world-famous Lick Observatory, run by the University of California, later in the year. Also, a link to a telescope in India is planned, allowing expanded access to night skies during daytime in Cork.

“We are unique in that we will be the first observatory outside the University of California to have access to Lick’s one-metre telescope. This is very exciting as, by amateur standards, it is a huge telescope.

“For example, we will be able to take pictures of asteroids. To make it more relevant for the children, we intend taking a picture of asteroids named after the mathematician George Boole, who was the first professor of mathematics at UCC, and his daughter Ethel, in honour of the 200-year celebration of his birth. “We will have to pay for the use of the telescope, but Lick are being extremely generous in that they are giving it to us at a fraction of the normal operating cost.”

The Tara project has, since 2013, allowed students to surf the net to operate a telescope at Ormondale School in Portola Valley on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area, but Smith says linking up with India greatly expands the project’s operational time.

“We are working with Fergusson College in Pune, India, to install another robotic telescope. It’s a 10-inch telescope, but the advantage is that India is 5.5 hours ahead, while California is eight hours behind, so this allows access to dark skies throughout the school day.“It will also help open up cultural exchanges and conversation for Irish schoolchildren, which is a major objective of the TARA project.”

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