A telescope which has helped to educate two generations of astronomers at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE) will soon be heading south to a new home with the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society.
The ’20 inch’ telescope has been used by the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy for teaching since 1967, and is being replaced with a new #40,000 state-of-the-art telescope during refurbishment of the Observatory on Blackford Hill. The old telescope (still in full working order) was offered as a gift to any group who could make use of it for teaching or public outreach. After reviewing more than a dozen submissions from groups around the U.K. and abroad, the bid from the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society was selected.
The Society plans to install the telescope in the James Irwin Observatory in the grounds of Canterbury Academy and Adult Education Centre on the outskirts of the city. The observatory was opened by the Apollo 15 astronaut, James Irwin, in 1990.
The society has an ambitious program to refurbish the telescope, equip it with new instruments and use it for public observing, and in support of science teachers delivering astronomy in local schools. The Society’s plans include providing disabled access by making live viewing possible in the ground floor warm-room and providing access to observing sessions via the internet.
Mike Phillips, Chairman of Mid-Kent Astronomical Society, said: “This telescope, together with our members’ many years of experience, will provide much needed additional educational resources for astronomy in Kent. We look forward to introducing many more people to the wonders of the night sky”.
Ken Moffat, Head of Simon Langton School in Canterbury said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to further develop some of the ground breaking research we are undertaking, and will give us a much needed opportunity to involve the science students of our partner school, Canterbury Academy, to go beyond the narrow confines of the current curriculum. This will allow both schools to excite and enthrall the future generation of scientists the U.K. needs.”
Phil Karnavas, Principal of Canterbury Academy added: “The Canterbury Academy is delighted to be involved with the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society in such an interesting and exciting venture — especially as star gazing has so successfully captured the public imagination at this time. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys is one of the country’s leading science schools and working with them will further enhance this project. Moreover, it is the hope that all local schools — primary, special and secondary — will get involved and take advantage of this excellent opportunity and resource at the heart of their community.”
The telescope, built by the British firm Grubb Parsons who were also responsible for many other much larger telescopes including the U.K. Infra Red Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, has a main mirror 0.5 m (20 inches) in diameter. It currently resides in a small dome atop one of the Royal Observatory buildings. To extract it, the dome will be lifted off the building, the telescope craned out in one piece and the dome replaced.
The Mid-Kent Astronomical Society is already researching the history of the telescope. It will be helped in the project by Dr. Giles Hammond of Glasgow University and Martin Black, a graduate engineer at UKATC. They recently refurbished a sister telescope originally installed in Glasgow in 1968.