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 2023 are now open.

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 2023 are now open. Armagh Observatory, located in Northern Ireland, UK, is an astrophysical research institute founded in 1789.It has 7 staff astronomers, 5 post-doctoral fellows, 15 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.

A 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 (2022/23: £16,062 per annum). In addition, we would fully fund the university fees.

Prospective candidates should fill in the application form and ensure that their references as well as any other required additional documents are received on or before the deadline of Friday 27th January 2023.

First selection will take place as soon as possible after the deadline with subsequent selections thereafter until all positions have been filled.

Application Notes

Application Form

Referee Form

Guidance on English Language Tests for Non Native Speakers

Guidance on whether you would need a Visa

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

The origins of helium stars - Supervisor: Simon Jeffery

Stars like our Sun convert hydrogen to helium, grow to become red giants, exchange mass with companions and ultimately run out of fuel and collapse to become a white dwarf, neutron star or black hole. There are many pathways that stellar evolution can take — some of the most interesting produce exotic “helium stars” where all the surface hydrogen has been burnt, blown, or stripped away. Helium stars are rare, because their lifetimes are short and the evolution pathways are unusual, and  diverse, ranging from cool giants like the R Coronae Borealis variables through to extremely hot white dwarfs.

Armagh astronomers are using the 11m Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) to make the largest multi-epoch survey of early-type helium stars in the Galaxy, including over 200 helium-rich hot subdwarfs and extreme helium stars. We also use data from other large-scale surveys including Gaia, TESS, and LAMOST to provide a full description of stellar properties, distribution and kinematics. The survey is yielding many new and unusual helium stars.  The goal is to explore connections between these discoveries  and hence to identify evolutionary pathways. Key questions include: How fast do helium stars evolve?  What do the surface chemistries of helium stars tell us about their past? Which helium stars forrmed in mergers, which by ingesting their surfaces, and which by stripping? What do pulsations tell us about the interiors of helium stars?

The PhD project will make use of  new and historic observations, as well the latest generation of computational tools for modeling stellar atmospheres, evolution and pulsation.   The project may involve one or more of analysis of the observations, including spectroscopy and pulsations,  focused studies of extraordinary individual stars, and developing and testing new theoretical models for  stellar evolution.


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

Determining the physical conditions of the interstellar medium and the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy - Supervisors: David Eden and Michael Burton

The development of improved astronomical instrumentation has allowed telescopes to make large-scale observations of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. By making such observations, we have a unique perspective on studying star formation. Not only can we study the impact of the larger-scale structure of the Galaxy on the star-formation process, but we can also study individual molecular clouds allowing us to investigate the physics on all scales.
However, to answer these questions, we survey the Galaxy in multiple different tracers with the carbon monoxide (CO) molecule using three different telescopes, namely Mopra (in Australia), Apex (in Chile) and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT; in Hawaii). These surveys covered the rotational transitions J=1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in multiple isotopologues of the molecule (12CO, 13CO, C18O). The combination of these data will allow for determinations of the conditions of the molecular component of the interstellar medium without the need for local thermodynamic equlibrium (LTE) assumptions.
This project has two stages. The first is to reduce the Central Molecular Zone data of the central regions of our Galaxy obtained from the Mopra Southern Galactic Plane CO Survey. The second stage is to then combine the data from this survey (J=1-0), with that of two other surveys known as SEDIGISM (J=2-1) and CHIMPS2 (J=3-2), to determine the physical conditions in the gas across the centre of the Galaxy.
This project will enable the student to learn observational techniques in radio and sub-millimetre astronomy, as well as modelling techniques from the calculations. It is expected that there will be opportunities for travelling to Hawaii to complete observations at the JCMT.

For further information contact

Astrophysical Data Visualisation - Supervisor: Michael Burton & Marc Sarzi

This project aims to apply data visualisation techniques to the investigation of complex, multi-dimensional astrophysical data sets.  It brings together astronomy, statistical analysis and data analytics in one project, with the opportunity to use the immersive environment of the Armagh Planetarium to render visualisations in and experiment with audience engagement.  The project lies at the interface of astrophysics and visual analytics.

Several multi-dimensional data sets are available, in particular to study the structure of both the Milky Way galaxy in detail and of external galaxies for a large number objects. For the Milky Way, we aim to investigate the 3D structure of the Milky Way Galaxy using a new data base on the distribution of the molecular gas in the galactic plane that we have obtained using the Mopra radio telescope in Australia.  Combined with data sets on the distribution of dust, interstellar extinction and stars in the Galaxy this can be used to constrain the distances to the spiral arms where the star forming molecular clouds lie. For external galaxies, we aim to use archival MUSE integral-field spectroscopic data obtained with the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope for the distribution and motions of the ionised-gas in order to better understand the processes leading to the formation of stars and therefore the growth of galaxies. Ancillary data may also be used for these objects.

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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