At Blackrock Castle you will find a working professional astronomical observatory, staffed by researchers from CIT engaged in searching for new planets around distant stars using telescopes at BCO and abroad. The integration of the public exhibition and the astronomical observatory makes BCO a unique national research and education centre.
Astronomy is the oldest science. It continues to have the ability to capture the imagination of the general public, which is unique among the sciences. While many exciting and important discoveries have been made by astronomers down through the centuries, the end of the 2nd millennium sees the development of increasingly powerful instruments which will address some of the most important questions left unanswered:
How old is the Universe? How big is the Universe? What is the fate of the Universe – expansion forever, or collapse to a singularity? Are there earthlike planets around other stars, and if so, how common are they? Is there intelligent life outside our planet? Can we detect and deflect asteroids which may be currently heading towards our fragile world?
These questions, and many others, require the combined efforts of thousands of scientists, across all disciplines, not just astronomers.
At BCO Labs we study and analyse a number of astronomical objects ranging from intra-galactic and close by, to extragalactic and at the edge of the Universe.
The Photometry Technique
At BCO Labs we use a technique called photometry. Photometry is the measuring of the flux (brightness) of a star or object. This is achieved by pointing a telescope at the object and monitoring the amount of light coming from it. A huge amount of information can be obtained from simply knowing the brightness of an object and in particular if that brightness changes. While there are a number of forms of photometry, we perform CCD photometry. By using CCDs instead of our eyes we can get far more accurate measurements of changes in brightness.
As an example, consider an extra solar planet. As the planet passes in front of its star there is a slight decrease in the brightness of the star. This can sometimes only be a fraction of a percent. Our eyes would not be sensitive enough to pick this up but our CCDs in combination with exceptional analytic software can detect this tiny drop in brightness. This alone shows the power of both CCDs and photometry. For a more detailed insight into the photometry of the different objects, please go to the relevant link.