The ‘OM Odyssey’ films transport audiences away from urban lights into the darkest of dark skies, speeding visitors into space to experience satellites, suns and starbursts, or swooping them through an ancient forest, under the fast-flowing Broughderg River, before soaring into the sky, into a galaxy of stars and the mesmerising Aurora Borealis.
The films have been specially created using the latest high-powered projection equipment and the most contemporary projection mapping techniques and are screened on the side of the OM building, with visitors watching from a dedicated viewing area using individual headsets.
At the same time, a new 3.4km Solar Walk has also opened at the visitor attraction, for the first time connecting the OM observatory building with Beaghmore Stone Circles, considered by many to be the area’s first observatory.
Visitors can also download an App to use as they move along the trail, which is dotted with markers, each one using augmented reality to present a planet in the solar system and to link the night sky which the ancient landscape.
Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Paul McLean, was joined by Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, for the official premier and to sample the new OM Solar Walk.
“To stand under the darkest of dark skies and see films screened like this is a truly amazing experience.
“Our new OM Solar Walk is spectacular on its own, given the landscape you move through, but is at a whole new level when you add the augmented reality which takes you on a journey to discover the sky and the land at once.
“We have always said that the uniqueness of this place lay in its skyscape and its landscape and these new additions to OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory are testament to that.
“Davagh Forest is rapidly becoming one of Mid Ulster’s most enticing visitor destinations, while being true to an ancient landscape, a history and heritage which spans millennia and a community which is passionate about the place where they live”.
Speaking at the opening of the OM Solar Walk and the premiere for the night-time film experience, Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots MLA said: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic more people visited outdoor spaces and this trend has continued. As we continue on the pathway to recovery I am delighted to see the completion of these excellent facilities at Davagh Forest which my Department has part funded through the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 Rural Tourism Scheme.
“This is an exciting and unique project for Northern Ireland and will be one of the ‘must see visitor’ attractions for amateur astronomers, those with an interest in the night sky and as an educational resource for schools and colleges.”
Minister Poots continued: “Tourism is one of the key economic sectors for Northern Ireland, providing jobs and livelihoods and supporting many local businesses, including many in rural areas. These further developments at Davagh Forest will attract additional visitors to this rural part of Northern Ireland and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.”
The observatory sits in the only designated International Dark Sky Park in Northern Ireland, where a lack of light pollution allows unrivalled views of the night sky and makes the site ideal for star-gazing, and is only one of two such officially accredited parks on the island of Ireland.
The new films are an addition to the exhibition at the visitor centre and observatory where the wonders of space and the night sky are brought down to earth, using virtual reality, touch screens, binoculars, mini-telescopes and interpretative panels to help visitors explore the solar system on guided tours.
The centrepiece of the building is the first floor observatory with a retractable roof where the 14 inch LX600 Meade telescope is used during special star-gazing events and VIP tours.
The project has been part-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Rural Tourism Scheme under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, and the Landfill Tax Fund.
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