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Autumn opening for new observatory

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By Donald Turvill
Moffat
Autumn opening for new observatory
COUNTDOWN . . . Moffat’s Observatory will open this autumn

THE REGION’S first dark sky observatory in Moffat is set to finally open its doors to the public later this year.

It is the culmination of more than five years of planning, fundraising and construction by members of the town’s astronomy club.

And after multiple pushbacks to the opening date due to the pandemic, club chairman, Jim Connechen, said members are now “as confident as anyone” that the community-run facility will begin welcoming stargazers from October.

“We assembled it ourselves, a bunch of volunteers from the club – it’s fully built,” Jim said. “We had it made to measure by a company and it arrived in 200 odd bits of wooden planks.”

Situated in a field south of Moffat Academy, it comprises two log cabins, a state-of-the-art telescope and and a telescope dome.

“It’s about eight metres long in total by three metres,” he added. “The dome itself, where the tele- scope is housed, is about three metres squared.”

“This particular beast we have,” Jim said, referring to the telescope, “is 16-inches – and that measurement is the kind of diameter of the lines that lets in the light, so it’s quite a big telescope.

“It weighs about 37 kilograms and costed in total with the camera equipment that’s on it and various other pieces about £20,000.”

Explaining the exciting possibilities that the observatory will bring to the town once open, Jim added: “We will see deep sky objects, other galaxies, nebulae and stars outside our own galaxies. And with the camera equipment we have attached to it, it opens up the door to astrophotography, so we’ll be able to take pictures of dark sky objects — through a camera you can take hundreds of different frames and stack them up to get all the glorious colour there is in the universe.”

The idea for the observatory was first conceived in 2015 after Moffat’s unique stargazing position was officially recognised by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), which named the former burgh as the first dark sky town outside of the USA.

Jim said local IDA member and author, James Paterson, worked “long and hard” to have Moffat designated with the rare status and bring the observatory project to fruition. He added it has also been made possible by funding from SSE, Moffat Community Council and money from astronomy club fundraisers.

Meanwhile, the club’s members looked on in horror last month as news broke that the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Dalmellington, East Ayrshire, had completely burned to the ground.

“It’s absolutely dreadful, absolutely appalling,” Jim said. “It was a much larger observatory than we’ve got. It’s just staggering because it reduces the number of dark sky sites in Scotland down to, well there’s Moffat and maybe one or two others but there ain’t many.”

And he called revelations that it may have been started on purpose as “extraordinary”, adding: “I do hope they get to the bottom of that.”

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