Airdrie Public Observatory

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Airdrie Public Observatory (55° 51' 56" N, 03° 58' 58" W) is in the town of Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, Scotland. The observatory is open to the public by request, and is housed in Airdrie Public Library. Installed on the roof of the first purpose-built library building in 1896, it is the smallest, and second oldest, of four public observatories operating in the UK, all of which are sited in Scotland. The present library building was opened in 1925.

The observatory is owned and funded by North Lanarkshire Council and operated on their behalf by Airdrie Astronomical Association (AAA), a Scottish astronomy society and registered charity. Current curators are Bob Webster and Gavin Bain.

Rooftop Dome of Airdrie Public Observatory

Cooke Telescope[edit]

Cooke of York telescope in Airdrie Public Observatory

The observatory's Cooke of York 6 inch refracting telescope is mounted equatorially and has a clockwork drive to track the stars across the sky. A manual mechanism is now used to rotate the observatory’s dome.

The Cooke eye-pieces for the telescope provided a range between 60 and 450 times magnification. The telescope has been adapted by the AAA to use more modern eye-pieces. Although the Cooke is not the original Airdrie telescope, it is believed that it is approximately 140 years old and, in its day, would have been considered to be a research grade telescope.

Other Telescopes[edit]

The observatory has a number of smaller telescopes, binoculars, and two reflector telescopes (each belonging to the AAA or its members) which can be used on the roof of the observatory (no longer permitted), or alternatively, they can be removed to a dark sky site for observing sessions.

Original Telescope[edit]

Dr Reid's 3.5 inch refractor telescope in Airdrie Public Observatory

The original telescope was a 3 inch, brass-bodied, refracting telescope donated to the town by Dr. Thomas Reid, an eminent Glasgow oculist, in 1896.

This has now been retired as repairs cannot be undertaken due to its age and fragility, but it can still be seen in the local history room of the library to this day.

Observatory Buildings[edit]

The observatory was founded in 1896 in the first purpose built library building of 1894. The second purpose built, and current, building was opened on 25 September 1925.


First Airdrie Public Library building (opened 1894), on Anderson Street, showing founding date of 1856
Roof dome site of original observatory on Anderson Street

In 1896 Dr. Thomas Reid, an eminent Glasgow oculist, donated a 3 inch brass-bodied, refracting telescope to the town, and it was housed in the library. He also donated the sum of £35 to convert a top-floor room, where a dome was built on the roof of the building for it. Robert Dunlop was the first Honorary Curator, followed shortly by Mr Peter Scotland.

A new library was built, near the first purpose-built library, with financial assistance from Airdrie Savings Bank and a second Carnegie grant (this time from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust). It incorporated a new observatory dome on the library roof, and the original Dr Reid telescope was brought from the old observatory. A Cooke of York brass-bodied 6 inch refracting telescope was obtained by the observatory curator Ex-Baillie James Lewis for the sum of £500. Before the recent discovery of a receipt for this, local oral tradition had it that this was donated by Mr Coats of Coats Ironworks, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire.

In 1977, the Observatory was threatened with closure due to storm damage. This is when Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics stepped in (Ian Downie wrote to the local Council on 7 July 1977) and offered to repair the damage to the telescope and drive if the then Monkland's Council would fit a new dome. They duly did and ASTRA repaired the telescope.

The Observatory was re-opened on 4 October 1978 (Sputnik 1 anniversary) by Professor Vincent Reddish, Astronomer Royal for Scotland. ASTRA had been managing Airdrie Public Observatory on behalf of the local council until 2008.

In 2009 the curatorship passed to Airdrie Astronomical Association in Partnership with Airdrie Public Library.

Currently the observatory has two Curators, Mr Bob Webster and Gavin Bain.

Arthur Bannister & Paul Clark, previous curators, at work

Sir Patrick Moore was their first Honorary President until his death in 2012.

AAA kids at the re dedication of the observatory

The observatory was visited by Brigadier General Charles Moss Duke Jr. Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot visited the observatory on 9 September 2010. Charlie also accepted the post of Honorary President of Airdrie Astronomical Association.

Colonel Al Worden Command Module Pilot of Apollo 15 was their next major visitor and new Honorary President.

Now a magnet for Apollo Astronauts1 having just welcomed Captain Dick Gordon Command Module Pilot of Apollo 12 to Airdrie.

See also[edit]

Other public observatories[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°51′56″N 3°58′58″W / 55.86556°N 3.98278°W / 55.86556; -3.98278