The IAA issues two awards, the Fitzgerald and Opik medals.
"The Aidan P. Fitzgerald Memorial Medal is the prestigious award of the Irish Astronomical Association, and is named in memory of one of its leading members back in the 40's and 50's. It is presented not more than once per year for "Outstanding Service to the Association" to someone usually, but not necessarily in a Council post.
Aidan Fitzgerald was born in Limerick, Ireland and had a keen interest in astronomy since childhood. Later he bought telescopes and other equipment and set them up in an observatory in his back garden. He became a leading light in the Belfast Centre of the old Irish Astronomical Society, and later became Chairman. He was also on the editorial board of the Irish Astronomical Journal. By profession, he was a principal officer in the Northern Ireland Ministry of Health and Local Government, and had been awarded the O.B.E. He never married, and died suddenly in the summer of 1964 from a heart attack, just short of his retirement.
In June 1954, the planet Mars was closer to earth than it had been for several years, but the most ideal conditions for observation were from the southern hemisphere. Astronomers from all over the world co-operated to make observations of the planet and a committee was set up under the chairmanship of Professor Earl C. Slipher from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Slipher was probably the greatest authority on Mars and was to observe and photograph the red planet from the Lamont-Hussey Observatory at Bloemfontein, South Africa using the great 27-inch refractor, (now dismantled) Fitzgerald was invited to join him at the invitation of the National Geographic Society who sponsored the studies, which were to last some four months.
As to the medal itself, it is tastefully minted in bronze gilt, and on the obverse shows the profile of the famous "South Refractor" at Dunsink Observatory outside Dublin, while the reverse has the recipients name and date engraved inside a laurel wreath." (Many thanks to John C McConnell for the above words)
IAA Opik Medal recipients
The Opik medal is a bit more special and is awarded for “Exceptional Service to Astronomy”.
Ernst Opik (1893-1985) was a noted Estonian astronomer and astrophysicist who spent the second half of his career (1948–1981) at Armagh Observatory. He was born in Kunda, Estonia and studied at the Universities of Moscow and Tartu.
His astronomical work was varied and groundbreaking. In 1916 he devised a method of measuring the density of binary stars. His sample was Omega 2 Eridani, a white dwarf, which he estimated at 25,000 times the density of the Sun which he dismissed as impossible. In fact this was an underestimate!
Later work included the 1922 determination of the distance of the Andromeda Galaxy – with a fair degree of accuracy, and the 1932 postulation of the existence of the Oort cloud, also called the Opik-Oort cloud.
His grandson Lembit Opik is the former Lib-Dem MP.
The medal has only been awarded twice as follows:-
2000 First Opik award this year, presented to David Beesley by Lembit Opik
2005 Terry Moseley
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