PhD Programme

Armagh Observatory is known world-over as a leader in the field of astronomical research; we welcome PhD Candidates every year. Applications for positions starting in Oct 2025 are expected to be advertised towards the end of 2024.

Support our PhD Programme

PhD Application Information

Applications for a 3.5 year postgraduate research studentship(s) tenable at Armagh Observatory & Planetarium starting in Oct 2025 will open towards the end of 2024. Armagh Observatory, located in Northern Ireland, UK, is an astrophysical research institute founded in 1789. It has 7 staff astronomers, 3 post-doctoral fellows, 10 PhD students and several visiting astronomers. Research interests include Solar Physics, Solar-System Science, Stellar, Galactic and Extra-galactic Astrophysics. Facilities at Armagh include a high-performance computer centre (for theoretical modelling and high-volume data analysis), and a new data visualisation center. AOP is a consortium member of  the 11-metre SALT (Southern African Large Telescope), GOTO (Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer), and DKIST (Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope) optical, LOFAR (LOw FRequency Array) radio and the CTA (Cherenkov Telescope Array) gamma-ray telescopes.

We expect to have number of potential PhD projects on these topics is available for prospective candidates to consider in their application. Candidates must have, or expect to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree or equivalent, in an appropriate discipline (e.g. Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy or Astrophysics). Successful candidates will enrol at an appropriate university and carry out a research programme at the Armagh Observatory & Planetarium. Applications are encouraged from candidates of any nationality although eligibility may depend on funding source. The successful applicant(s) would receive a grant based on the United Kingdom Science and Technology Facilities Council rate (2023/24: £17,668 per annum). In addition, we would fully fund the university fees.

The projects below were offered last year and we will update these towards the end of 2024.

Current Research Projects

Magnetic Fields of Degenerate Stars - Supervisor: Stefano Bagnulo

White dwarfs (WDs) are the end point of 90% of stellar evolution. 15–20% of such stars possess strong magnetic fields. The fields range over five dex in strength, from below ten kG (one Tesla) up to about 1000 MG. The fields are roughly dipolar, and show no evidence of rapid secular changes. They seem to be “fossil fields”, produced in earlier evolution that evolve slowly by ohmic decay. At present, there is no single firmly established theoretical scenario that explains how prior evolution through the red giant and AGB phases can leave strong surface fossil magnetic fields in a significant fraction of WDs. Possibilities include retaining fields from earlier evolutionary phases, or field generation during binary mergers.

Using various facilities at the Very Large Telescope, at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, and at the William Heschel Telescope, Armagh astronomers are performing a large survey of magnetic WDs in the vicinity of our solar system, with the goal to understand if and how magnetic fields evolve with time, and if they are correlated to other features of the stellar atmospheric chemistry, mass, and age. A PhD project is offered to help to obtain observational constraints that will be used to understand the origin of magnetic fields in WDs.

The student will learn how to use spectro-polarimetric techniques to detected and model stellar magnetic fields. She or he will help with the preparation of proposal for telescope time, with the execution and analysis of the observations, with the search for correlation between magnetic fields and other stellar parameters, and with the modelling of time series of polarised spectra and of surface magnetic field structure of of WDs. The project will be more theoretically or observationally oriented according to the preference and skills of the student.

For further information contact

Time Domain Astrophysics - Supervisor: Gavin Ramsay

Time Domain Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy which utilises the apparent brightness variations of objects on timescales ranging from
less than a second (neutron stars) to minutes (compact binary star systems and pulsating stars) to hours (accreting objects) and months
or years (active galactic nuclei and accreting objects) to probe different physical processes. Other examples include supernovae and
exoplanets orbiting other stars.

Armagh is a founder member of the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) project which has robotic telescopes on La Palma in
the Canary islands and Siding Spring in Australia. The prime goal of this project is to detect the optical counterpart of Gravitational
Wave events detected by Ligo/Virgo/Kagara. These telescopes have sufficiently wide sky coverage that we map the entire visible sky every few days. Armagh is also a member of the BlackGem project which currently has three telescopes in Chile and has the same primary goal as GOTO.

The exact project which any a new PhD student would undertake be open according to their interests and expertise. However, it would be
expected to make use of GOTO and BlackGem data, with additional data potentially coming from the TESS satellite and radio data obtained
from I-LOFAR.

For further information contact

Spectroscopy of The Heaviest Stars - Supervisor: Jorick Vink

Some few hundred million years after the Big Bang the Universe lit-up by the formation of the First Stars, which are thought to have been very massive owing to their pristine chemistry. Despite their key role in setting the stage for the subsequent Cosmic chemistry, we know surprisingly little about the properties of the first few stellar generations.

The goal of this observational/modelling Project is to utilize ongoing and new large-scale spectroscopic surveys (HST ULLYSES, X-Shooting ULLYSES at ESO’s VLT in Chile, and WEAVE on the island of La Palma) to determine the fundamental  stellar properties, constrain the evolution of massive stars, and  assess the final mass before collapsing into a Black Hole.

The project can be be more observational or theoretical depending on the interests and skills of the student.

For further information contact

The heaviest stars and black holes - Supervisor: Jorick Vink

Some few hundred million years after the Big Bang the  Universe lit-up by the formation of the First Stars, which are thought to
have been very massive owing to their pristine chemistry. Despite their key role in setting the stage for the subsequent Cosmic chemistry, we know surprisingly little about the  evolution & fate of the first few stellar generations.

The goal of this computational PhD project is to predict the amount of mass the first stellar generations loose through stellar winds, and to
determine the final masses of these stars as Black Holes.

The predicted black hole masses will be compared to data from gravitational wave observatories.

For further information contact

Developing deep all-sky imaging polarimetry with the VST - Supervisor: Stefano Bagnulo

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST), located in Cerro Paranal (Chile), is a 2.6m telescope with a 268-megapixel camera, called OmegaCAM. It will be equipped with polarimetric optics, then re-commissioned, and will produce the first science data whithin the next three years. At this point, the VST will become the only facility in the world capable of deep imaging polarimetry (thanks to its 2.6m mirror) over a field of view as large as 1 deg x 1 deg. AOP is offering a studentship to help to learn how to make the best use of the telescope in polarimetric mode. The PhD student will help to develop and test calibration and data-analysis procedures, and will have an important role in the identification of the observational projects that can maximise the scientific return of this unique facility. Scientific targets will include solar system objects, interstellar medium, and magnetic stars, and any target for which the rapid follow-up capabilities of the telescope may show of crucial importance. In preparation of the science validation of the VST, the student will also use polarimetric data obtained from ESO instruments and telescopes, in particular the FORS instrument of the Very Large Telescope. The student will be supervised at the Armagh Observatory by Dr Stefano Bagnulo in close collaboration with other international teams, mainly in the Netherlands and in Italy.

For further information contact

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