Lockyer Observatory and Planetarium

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Norman Lockyer Observatory 2010 showing the Mond Dome

The Norman Lockyer Observatory, Lockyer Technology Centre & Planetarium (NLO) is a public access optical observatory in East Devon on the Jurassic Coast of South West England.[1]

Location and instruments[edit]

The Norman Lockyer ObservatoryLockyer Technology Centre MX0LTC and Planetarium are situated near a south facing cliff one mile east of the coastal town of Sidmouth, fifteen miles southeast of Exeter and ten miles from the M5 motorway. 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: McClean (12" refractor), Kensington (10" refractor), Victoria (12" reflector), Connaught (20" reflector), and Mond which houses the famous 6¼-inch Lockyer refractor telescope which the astronomer Norman Lockyer used to discover helium.

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.

The observatory is active in both optical and radio astronomy and has a vibrant astro imaging group, a radio astronomy group (MX0LTC), a meteorology and weather satellite facility and a science history group. Several observatory members are also licensed Radio Amateurs and operate radio call signs MX0LTC (Lockyer Technology Centre) and GB2NLO for special events at the observatory.

The facility was operated by the University of Exeter between 1946 and 1987 and transferred to the East Devon District Council in 1988. A convention center for lectures and academic conferences was added in 2005. 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 (2015 = Saturday 8 August).

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 Lockyer Technology Centre by Dr. Brian May.

Norman Lockyer[edit]

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer,[2] the founding editor of the scientific journal Nature in 1869, built the observatory in 1912 as a private venture, following the closure of the South Kensington Observatory, where he had been a principal researcher of solar activity and meteorology.

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.


The Norman Lockyer Observatory Society (NLOS) is a registered charity with the principal activities of promoting the public understanding of science, technology and astromony 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.

See also[edit]

Other public facilities in the UK which provide both a planetarium and a working optical observatory:


  1. ^ "Norman Lockyer Observatory, 360° Panorama". BBC Devon website. 19 August 2005. The Norman Lockyer Observatory is a working historic astronomical observatory and planetarium in Sidmouth, east Devon. It is open to the public and used for scientific education. 
  2. ^ "Norman Lockyer Observatory Papers". Archives Hub for UK Universities & Colleges. 
  3. ^ "Mills Observatory". 
  4. ^ "The Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux, East Sussex". 
  5. ^ "South Tyneside College Planetarium and Observatory". 25 September 2006. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°41′17″N 3°13′11″W / 50.688031°N 3.219835°W / 50.688031; -3.219835