Public Lecture – Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society


Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society Free Public Lecture: “Babylonian Astronomy and Modern Science” by Professor Richard Stephenson, University of Durham; in the Armagh County Museum at 7.30pm, Thursday 27th October. All Welcome.

The illustrated talk will explain how, from at least as early as 700 BC, Babylonian astronomers kept a regular watch for a wide variety of celestial events. Their observations included eclipses of the Sun and Moon, and conjunctions of the Moon with planets and bright stars, as well as occasional comets and meteors. The records of these phenomena, the prime sources of which are astronomical diaries, are inscribed on clay tablets using a cuneiform script; they are largely preserved in the British Museum. More than a thousand tablets are preserved. Most texts are in a fragmentary condition, but extensive studies have revealed much that is important in present-day science. For instance early sightings of Halley’s comet are helpful in studying the past orbit of the comet; while numerous timed observations of eclipses enable long-term changes in the Earth’s rate of rotation to be investigated with remarkable accuracy. Both of these aspects will be discussed in this talk.

This free public lecture is being held in memory of Dr Denis Gerard McCartan (1944-2014), a distinguished former pupil of St Patrick’s College (now St. Patrick’s Grammar School), Armagh. He was one of two sons of Denis McCartan, the former Assistant Postmaster of Armagh, and this lecture will celebrate his life in science and science communication at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne as teacher and research scientist. The lecture will be followed by a general discussion of the relationship between science, philosophy and religion, reflecting topics covered in a popular course co-delivered by Gerard McCartan at Newcastle University, namely “Faith, Reason and the Cosmos”. The proceedings will conclude with light refreshments in the Society’s Reading Room and there will be a retiring collection in aid of Cancer Research UK. The event is being held in association with the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.