a modern vision eric lindsay at armagh observatory srividya subramanian and john mcfarland n.
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a modern vision eric lindsay at armagh observatory srividya subramanian and john mcfarland

Eric Mervyn Lindsay, the seventh director of the Armagh Observatory masterminded the development of the Observatory in the middle of the 20th century, building it into the centre for research and education that it is today. Lindsay had a vision for Irish astronomy that was at least a generation ahead of his time. He was foremost in recognizing the importance of establishing astronomical observatories at well-equipped ‘dark’ sites with good astronomical seeing; he was instrumental in setting up the world's first international astronomical observatory, arguably a forerunner of the European Southern Observatory (ESO); and he supported and encouraged the public understanding of astronomy and its heritage in Armagh, and its wider educational potential.

“We do not know the truth. But sometimes we get a glimpse of the shadow of the truth.Where there is a shadow, somewhere there must be light”

- Eric M. Lindsay

Lindsay was regarded as the “Father” of Irish amateur astronomy. He was a shining light in a sad period of darkness in the history of Northern Ireland.

During his lifetime, his achievements were recognised by being elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1937), a Member of the Royal Irish Academy (1939) and by the award of an OBE (1963).

Armagh Planetarium

With the very limited Observatory staff and their focus on astronomical research, Lindsay established the Armagh Planetarium which illustrates well his tenacity in pursuit of his goals.

The Ministry agreed to fund 60% of the total cost of the facility, provided the rest was contributed by one or more public bodies. The prospects began to look brighter for a planetarium when the Armagh City and Armagh County Councils agreed to fund the remaining 40% and was announced in 1965 that a planetarium was to be constructed in Armagh under the guidance of Patrick Moore, its first director.

Armagh Planetarium took its first visitors in February 1968. Since that time it has undergone many changes to exploit the latest technologies and till now it has got more than 1.5 million visitors.

A lunar crater was named after Lindsay in 1976.

(Courtesy of Mark and Nigel Stronge, East Antrim Astronomical Society)

Return to Armagh

The peariod leading up to Lindsay's return to Armagh marked the low point in the history of the Armagh Observatory with little funding and against a background of significant political difficulties in Ireland.

When he joined the observatory his vision was to see the Observatory achieving high standing as a modern astronomical research institution. He worked tirelessly for the Observatory to have access to the latest forefront technologies available outside.

He was one of the first few astronomers who had the vision of what access to a powerful telescope in southern latitudes could mean to a northern observatory plagued by rainy skies.

In 1948, Dr E. B. Armstrong, formerly a Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) Physics Lecturer, was appointed as Senior Assistant and Dr Ernst Öpik, former Director of Research, Tartu Observatory, as Research Associate. This was the first time, for more than 150 years, the staff of the Observatory had increased from 1 to 3 astronomers.

In short, in the late 1940s, not only had Lindsay secured access to a new, wide-field telescope in the southern hemisphere, strengthened scientific collaboration with Dublin and reintroduced observational astronomy at Armagh, but he had also identified a route to expand the number of staff.

A Modern Vision: Eric Lindsay at Armagh ObservatorySrividya Subramanian and John McFarland

Armagh Observatory

In 1947, Lindsay, in collaboration with the observatories in Dunsink and Harvard, established the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard ( the ADH) telescope at the Boyden Station of the Harvard College Observatory in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

He also converted the 18-inch Calver reflector into 12/18 inch Schmidt telescope to make useful observations from Armagh when weather conditions were favourable.This was the first Schmidt telescope erected in the British Isles.

In the same year, the joint Armagh Observatory - Queen's University Appointments Committee recommended that each year the Observatory should apply to the Government for the sum necessary for the efficient running of the Observatory.

Eric M. Lindsay left his mark not just in his professional work but also in the amateur astronomical community and wider public through his work with the Armagh Planetarium, the Irish Astronomical Society (IAS) and the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA). In 2004, the Astronomical Science Group of Ireland (ASGI) marked the importance of his Astronomical legacy by introducing the Lindsay Scholarship — a joint Armagh–Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS)–Trinity College Dublin (TCD) programme— for research in astronomy and related sciences.