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Armagh Planetarium celebrates local links to the Apollo Moon landing

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon mission, Armagh Planetarium is celebrating local connections including a contribution from the late Sir Patrick Moore.

A hand drawn map of the Moon by Sir Patrick Moore is on display at the museum. The famous astronomer was the first director of Armagh Planetarium when it was constructed in 1965.

Sir Patrick Moore (pictured in 1983) was the first director of Armagh Planetarium. Credit: PA

“The Moon map was one of the important crucial parts of data that helped guide the Moon missions,” current director Prof Michael Burton explained.

“Patrick Moore was a great scientist, a great astronomer, and the Moon was his subject of study and over many years he compiled one of the best maps ever of the moon and this helped guide the Apollo missions.

“Certainly before Apollo landed they had taken very close photographs with the best telescopes in the world but having an idea of the overall structure of the Moon, where the craters were, where the mountains were, that actually came from maps made by astronomers like Patrick Moore.”

Credit: UTV

In July 1969, three intrepid astronauts - Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins - kept the world on the edge of its seat as they hurtled towards the Moon, set on an extraordinary mission to become the first humans to set foot on our nearest planetary neighbour.

Millions of people will this week find themselves casting a lingering look to the heavens as they contemplate the momentous events that captured the planet 50 years ago.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the first manned Moon landing in 1969. Credit: NASA

It was really one of the truly great journeys if not the great journey of exploration of all time. Humanity actually leaving our home planet and going to another body.

– Prof Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

“It’s actually quite amazing that it’s 50 years ago that this took place,” he said.

“It was an event that all of humanity looked at, it didn’t matter what country you came from, it’s almost like the world stopped still to watch and observe those first grainy photographs, they were grainy TV pictures taken when Neil Armstrong walked down that ladder and put his foot on the Moon.”

While the US were trailblazers for space exploration, the research that helped those astronauts get to the moon, was on an international scale - with some of the early scientific work carried out in Ireland.

“Contribution from scientists around the world to understanding the moon was phenomenal,” Prof Burton continued.

“Indeed one of the first great scientific measurements of the Moon was made in Ireland in Birr (Co Offaly) by Lord Rosse.

“It was about 1870 and he measured the heat of the moon, the temperature of the moon by infrared observations and after Neil Armstrong landed and came back to Earth he actually wrote a letter to Birr Castle acknowledging the contribution the understanding of the nature of the Moon which really first started in the science done in Ireland in the 1870s.

“So yes science is an international endeavour and Armagh is happy to be a part of that and indeed the Armagh Planetarium really made its name by reporting on the stories of the Moon landing because the moon landing came just a year after the planetarium itself was completed so we became the place for space back in 1969.”