Observatory dome will be lifted up to remove old device

Mark Collins from the Royal Observatory with the old telescope
Mark Collins from the Royal Observatory with the old telescope
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AS trade-ins go, it’s been compared to swapping a Morris Minor for a shiny new car.

But as the Royal Observatory Edinburgh welcomes a new state-of-the-art telescope, its old one won’t end up stripped for parts in a junkyard.

Astronomers on Blackford Hill will later this year welcome the £40,000 device, with new classrooms also being built at a cost of £200,000.

However, a good home has been found for the old telescope, which will be donated to amateur star-gazers in Kent after one of the observatory’s domes is lifted in June.

The new 20-inch teaching telescope – a Meade LX400 – will allow students to delve further and faster into space than before.

Refurbishment work will also see old, unused computer labs turned into new office and classroom space.

Astronomy Technology Centre project scientist Dr John Davies said: “It’s the equivalent of trading in your old Morris Minor for a brand new car. The mirrors are the same size but the new model is digital and computerised.

“It automatically recognises which way is up and all the students will have to do is type in the co-ordinates and the scope will turn to exactly where they want.

“You can’t be romantic in astronomy, space is so big it makes your eyes water and to understand it we need to have the most cutting-edge technology possible.”

Groups from the UK and the United States applied for the old telescope, before the Observatory decided to donate it to the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society, which will make it available to the public and Canterbury Academy students.

The old telescope, built by the British firm Grubb Parsons, currently resides in a smaller dome atop one of the Royal Observatory buildings.

In June the dome will be lifted off the building to extract the telescope and it will be craned out in one piece before being transported to Canterbury. Refurbishment work will begin at the same time before the new telescope arrives in October.

Head of estates Mark Collins said: “Once we remove the dome, we also plan to polish the bottom of it as it looks to be suffering from a bit of wear.”

STAR TURNS

• Calton Hill was appointed as the Royal Observatory during the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822.

• The first Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Regius Professor Thomas Henderson, was appointed in 1834. He was the first astronomer to measure parallax – regarding the relative positions of objects – and determine distance to the stars.

• The new Blackford Hill Observatory, equipped under the supervision of the new Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Ralph Copeland, came into being in 1896.

• A major programme of work in 2010 focused on restoring the two historic copper domes that sit atop the Grade A-listed observatory building.