Airdrie Public Observatory

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The Airdrie Observatory logo.
The Airdrie Astronomical Association logo.

Airdrie Public Observatory (55° 51' 56" N, 03° 58' 58" W) is an observatory in the town of Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, Scotland. The observatory is open to the public by request, and is housed in Airdrie Public Library. Airdrie Observatory is the smallest, and second oldest, of four public observatories operating in the United Kingdom, all of which are sited in Scotland.

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

Cooke Telescope[edit]

Cooke of York telescope in Airdrie Public Observatory

Airdrie Observatory is home to a 6" Cooke of York refracting telescope with equatorial mount and a clockwork drive which is used to track objects across the sky. A manual mechanism is used to open and rotate the observatory’s dome.

The Cooke eye-pieces for the telescope provided a range between 60 and 450 times magnification. The telescope was adapted 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 and binoculars, each belonging to the AAA or its members. In the past access to the library roof for observing purposes was permitted, although increasingly stringent health and safety rules has meant that this is no longer possible. All telescopes can be borrowed by members of the Airdrie Astronomical Association for personal use.

Original Telescope[edit]

Dr Reid's 3.25 inch refractor telescope in Airdrie Public Observatory

The original telescope was a 3.25", brass-bodied, refracting telescope donated to the town by Dr. Thomas Reid, an eminent Glasgow oculist and philanthropist, in 1896.

This telescope is no longer used 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]

From 1896 to 1925 Airdrie Observatory was located in the original Airdrie Public Library building (now the Airdrie Arts Centre). The original library building was opened after a £1000 donation (equivalent to approximately £99,428 today) by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American philanthropist. In 1925 it was deemed that the library building was too small, and on September 25, 1925 the current library building was opened. The second library building was funded by Airdrie Savings Bank and a second Carnegie grant, this time from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.The observatory moved along with the library, a purpose-built observatory being built on the library roof.


Bob Webster and Gavin Bain, current Observatory curators
The current Airdrie Observatory dome.

In 1896 Dr. Thomas Reid 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 - equivalent to approximately £3255 - to convert a top-floor room, to be used as an observatory. 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 grant 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. Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics (ASTRA) member Ian Downie wrote to the then Monklands' Council (now North Lanarkshire Council) and offered to repair the damage done to the telescope if the council would install a new dome. The offer was accepted and the refurbishment of the Observatory began.

The Observatory was re-opened on the 4 October 1978 by Professor Vincent Reddish, the then Astronomer Royal for Scotland. ASTRA managed 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 after it was decided that the Airdrie branch of Astra would become a separate organisation.

Currently the observatory has two Curators, Bob Webster and Gavin Bain. Sir Patrick Moore was the Observatory's first Honorary President until his death in 2012.

Apollo Visitors[edit]

In 2010 as part of the Observatory was visited by Brigadier General Charles Moss Duke Jr., the Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot . Charles Duke accepted the post of Honorary President of Airdrie Astronomical Association.

Charles Duke at Airdrie Observatory.

In 2011 Colonel Al Worden Command Module Pilot of Apollo 15 gave a talk to local schoolchildren. Like Duke, Worden also accepted the position of Honorary President.

In 2012 Captain Richard Gordon, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 12 visited the observatory, and also accepted the position of Honorary President.

All Apollo visitors were sponsored by Tunnock's, a Scottish family bakers. This was because of the resemblance of the Apollo Re-entry parachute to the Tunnock's Tea Cake.

Airdrie Astronomical Association[edit]

Airdrie Astronomical Association, commonly abbreviated to AAA, is a Scottish amateur astronomy club, founded on the 1st May 2009. Currently the AAA operates Airdrie Observatory on behalf of North Lanarkshire Council. The AAA hold weekly meetings in New Wellwynd Parish Church, meeting more often than any other astronomical society in the United Kingdom. Every meeting features a presentation from either a club member or guest speaker. The AAA opens the Observatory during astronomical events, at frequent open evenings, or for any group which wishes to visit.

The current AAA committee.

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