Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Day Trip to the Armagh Planetarium

Armagh PlanetariumWith family visiting and the route into Belfast about to turn into a parade for the day, we decided to escape to somewhere quieter. Our solution was to get a Translink Goldline coach to Armagh, the least populated city in Northern Ireland don’t you know! We aimed to have a quick look around the city but our main aim destination was one of my favourite visitor attractions in Northern Ireland – the Armagh Planetarium.

Armagh is about 1 hour and 20 minutes away by the express bus from the Europa bus station in Belfast. The bus calls at Lurgan and Portadown along the way but the journey flew by. On the way back especially as we got one of the Goldline coach that has been fitted out with free Wi-Fi.

Once we arrived in Armagh we set off from the bus station on a short walk of about 200m over to the planetarium. At the reception desk we bought our tickets to the show for later on and set off around the exhibition area.

The exhibition section isn't even close to the size of some other planetariums like the Hayden planetarium in New York but it still has many interesting and fun exhibits and they make great use of the space. I'm always mesmerised by the topographical map of Northern Ireland on the floor and the kids area is awesome fun - splatting images with your feet.

In one room there is a screen showing 3D short videos about science, technology and space. The one about size is quite an eye opener - Stars are huge!

If I was to be critical I'd say some of the shows and exhibits might need updating a little, some of the information on display references dates for things as future events that have already happened. It's very hard to be too critical though as access to the exhibition is free and they even have a room upstairs now with a projector showing some more recent news about astronomy events, such as updates about the Mars Curiosity Rover. Not to mention a lot of it is timeless such as getting to feel a real meteorite!


After we had walked around the exhibits, we had some snacks at the planetarium’s little cafĂ©. I had a big chocolate muffin and a pot of tea and got plenty of change from 3 quid. Even the vending machine was cheaper than the apparently subsidised cafeteria at work, I kinda wish I worked nearby!

After the refuelling, we went for a walk around the Astropark and observatory grounds.

Red Leaves

Walking the line of the scale model of the solar system...

Scale Solar System Planet

Scale Solar System Sculpture

...and being perplexed by the hypercube of wonder and broken by the Hill of Infinity - uphill I might add.

Hill of Infinity Armagh Astropark

Along the way you get some nice views of the two St Patrick's Cathedrals.

St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh

St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh from a Distance

On the way back to the planetarium we passed by the observatory and the orrery at the top of the hill.

Armagh Observatory

We made it back in time for the best bit of the planetarium - the shows in the astrodome. This bit you have to pay for, the tickets for the shows are 6 pounds for an adult. Although short they're good value, as there isn't another thing like it in Northern Ireland. The shows are usually the same shows as you'll get if you go to the planetarium in London or New York, often narrated by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg or Ewan McGregor and for the show we went to this time it was the voice of Liam Neeson.

Projected onto the roof of the dome for us this time was the show 'Dynamic Earth'.
They're only short, usually around 20-30 minutes, but they pack a lot in and the immersion is amazing. It's not 3D in the cinema glasses sense but it has the depth of the dome. In some ways it's more absorbing as everything you can see all around your head are the moving images, like watching a movie when you can't see where the walls end and the picture starts. I'm maybe bias given my degree subject but it was a good show, as it's only short in length it doesn't go into any brilliant detail but as an overview that adults and kids alike can take something from it was very engaging.

Rather than trying to describe it I'll just give the blurb from the planetarium's site:

"Dynamic Earth follows a trail of energy that flows from the Sun into the interlocking systems that shape Earth's climate: the atmosphere, oceans, and the biosphere. Highlights include ultra-high-resolution visualizations of giant swirling eddies of the Gulf Stream, a recreation of the anatomy of Hurricane Katrina, microscopic ocean creatures blown up to giant size, and the most detailed recreation of the surface and atmosphere of Venus ever produced."

After we'd adjusted to the light, we headed to the shop and I bought a magnet to add to the collection as we’re still living the fridge magnet dream - I must take a photo of the fridge door sometime to show you all.

Our next stop was to take a walk through Armagh and find some food. We gave Embers Restaurant a try, I had a BLT with chips and it was very nice, cheap food too compared to Belfast prices.

After we’d eaten and taken a little walk around the rest of town, calling in at a few shops for a nosey, I was curious on the way back and went for a wander up the hill for a closer look at one of the Cathedrals.

St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh Close View

Before we headed back for the bus, we had a nice pint of Guinness in the big bar of the Charlemont Arms whilst we sat and chatted. We got very lucky with the weather on the day and it was amazing how quiet the place was given it was a sunny Saturday in September though some of that may have been due to other people heading the other way into Belfast. It turned out to be an easy going trip and just the right pace for what we needed it to be.


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