Norman Lockyer Observatory

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Lockyer Observatory and Planetarium
Norman Lockyer Observatory 228.jpg
The Norman Lockyer Observatory in 2010, showing the Mond Dome
Abbreviation NLO
Location Sidmouth, United Kingdom
Coordinates 50°41′17″N 3°13′11″W / 50.68803°N 3.219835°W / 50.68803; -3.219835Coordinates: 50°41′17″N 3°13′11″W / 50.68803°N 3.219835°W / 50.68803; -3.219835
Telescopes Lockyer Telescope[*], Kensington Telescope[*], McClean Telescope[*]

The Norman Lockyer Observatory, the Lockyer Technology Centre, and the Planetarium (jointly NLO), is a public access optical observatory in Sidmouth, East Devon on the Jurassic Coast of South West England. It was founded in 1912. It houses a number of optical telescopes, including the Lockyer Telescope. It is operated by the The Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.


The Norman Lockyer Observatory,[1] the Lockyer Technology Centre[2] and the Planetarium are located near a south facing cliff one mile east of the coastal town[citation needed] of Sidmouth, Devon,[1][3] fifteen miles southeast of Exeter and ten miles from the M5 motorway.[citation needed]


The optical observatory[3] was founded by Joseph Norman Lockyer in 1912 when he retired to Sidmouth,[4] following from the closure of the South Kensington Observatory.[3] It was originally known as Hill Observatory, before being renamed to the Norman Lockyer Observatory after his death in 1920.[4]

The Observatory's historic instruments are associated with Lockyer's pioneering work on star temperature which led to theories of stellar evolution and the foundation of astrophysics.[citation needed]

The facility was operated by the University of Exeter between 1946 and 1987.[citation needed] In 1984 the East Devon District Council became the owners of the observatory, and in 1995 it was leased to the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.[5] A convention center for lectures and academic conferences was added in 2005.[citation needed]

The observatory is staffed by volunteers, and is regularly open to the public[4] on specific afternoons and evenings.[6]


The observatory provides modern telescopes with computer enhanced imaging, as well as maintaining some of the nation's most historic instruments, and enjoys a relatively dark night sky with a southerly aspect across the sea. There are five domes:[citation needed]

  • McClean, housing the McClean Telescope, built in 1897 and donated to the observatory by Francis McClean in 1912. Also in the dome is the Cooke Siderostat, which displays the spectrum of the Sun on the wall of the dome.[7]
  • Kensington, housing the Kensington Telescope. Built in 1881 for the Solar Physics Observatory, London, it has both a 10" and 9" tube for observations and spectroscopy respectively.[7]
  • Victoria, housing a 12" reflector[citation needed]
  • Connaught, housing a 20" reflector[citation needed]
  • Mond, housing the 6¼-inch Lockyer Telescope. Built in 1871, this optical refractor telescope is on a German equatorial mount. Norman Lockyer used the objective lens from this telescope to discover helium in 1868 (before it was later fitted into the telescope).[8]

The observatory is particularly well situated for spectral analysis in astronomy, which requires a clear sky over the whole optical spectrum, as it enjoys a relatively "clean" sky to the east and south across the sea. The atmosphere is usually free of air pollution and light pollution and, as the sea has a uniform temperature, the air is also free of rising currents which can distort optical images.[citation needed]

The observatory is active in both optical and radio astronomy and has an astro imaging group, a radio astronomy group, a meteorology and weather satellite facility and a science history group.[citation needed] The Lockyer Technology Centre has the call sign MX0LTC,[2] and the observatory's call sign is GB2NLO for special events at the observatory.[citation needed]

It cooperates with undergraduate courses of the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and the Open Universities, and is available for scientific and educational development projects. The observatory is home to the South West Astronomy Fair each August.[citation needed]

2012 saw the Centenary of the observatory with special commemorative events taking place throughout that year and the opening of the new Connaught Dome (20" reflector) and the Lockyer Technology Centre by Brian May.[citation needed]

The observatory holds a library, including spectral plates. An archive of Lockyer's papers is held at the University of Exeter.[5]


The observatory is home to an astronomical society,[4] the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society (NLOS), which was founded in 1995 from the Sidmouth and District Astronomy Society (SIDDAS) and the Sidmouth Amateur Radio Society.[5] It is a registered charity with the principal activities of promoting the public understanding of science, technology and astronomy and supporting science education in schools and universities. The facility is financed solely by its membership, private donations and income derived from Public Open Days. No funding is received from national or local government agencies nor does it receive ongoing grants from any organisation.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Norman Lockyer Observatory, 360° Panorama". BBC Devon website. 19 August 2005. 
  2. ^ a b "M0LTC". Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c "Norman Lockyer Observatory". Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Norman Lockyer Observatory". Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "History". Norman Lockyer Observatory. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  6. ^ "Opening Times". Norman Lockyer Observatory. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Telescopes". Norman Lockyer Observatory. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  8. ^ "Lockyer Telescope". Retrieved 18 July 2016.