Kielder Observatory was opened in March 2008. The vision of its original director Gary Fildes, the Observatory was opened by the former Astronomer Royal Sir Arnold Wolfendale, and now has a world class reputation for astronomical outreach under one of the best dark sky sites in all of Europe.
Originally envisaged in 2008 to host a few dozen events a year, Kielder now hosts over 700 events a year and its popularity means events are regularly booked well in advance.
Below are some highlights of our journey.
The whole astronomy scene started at Kielder before the establishment of the Observatory. Firstly, the late David Sinden, of Sinden Optical Co, had for some time been involved with events held around Kielder and would volunteer his spare time to come to the area and talk about astronomy. He was of course involved in many optical applications during his time at Grubb Parsons in Newcastle. This love for his hobby and profession helped introduce many people into this most inspiring of science activities.
When our original director, Gary Fildes, moved to the area in the middle of 2000, he was amazed at the clarity of the skies, the light pollution free vistas were astounding. He met Pippa Kirkham, an employee of the Forestry Commission and was charged with promoting "astro tourism" and was asked to host the popular "nightwatch" events held at Kielder Castle. The public support for these events was incredible and quickly snowballed into regular meetings. Gary had been thinking of staging "star camp" events. Aimed at amateur astronomers it was a gathering of like-minded people who would camp out under the stars and share astro stories over a good meal and a drink.The astronomers loved it and established Kielder Star Camp as one of the world's top ten astro parties, helped of course by the pristine skies.
All of this helped give the astronomy profile added impetus. It was around this time that Gary was introduced to Peter Sharpe, the curator for the art and architecture projects in Kielder under the auspices of the Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust. Peter thought that an Observatory could be an attractive addition to their portfolio. Like all good ideas, it started with a meeting in a local pub!
Peter Sharpe had a vision and concept for the the project: to launch a competition amongst architects to design an observatory that would compliment the Kielder land and sky scape. Over 230 entries were from every corner of the planet, some were incredible, others not so, but six entries were finally shortlisted. The winner was Charles Barclay architects from London. Charles and his team designed something quite spectacular, and as you can see the rest is history.
The construction of the Observatory was funded by One North East via Northumberland Strategic Partnership, European Regional Development Fund, Northern Rock Foundation, Forestry Commission, Tynedale Council, and Kielder Partnership. All the timber came from sustainably managed forests, independently certified as well-managed by the Forest Stewardship Council.
It was then that KOAS - The Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society - was born. An intrepid group of volunteers whose commitment to the project certainly guaranteed its success. Every event that has been held at the Observatory has been ably assisted by our amazing team of volunteers, giving up their spare time to tell the story of astronomy.
Kielder Observatory is one of only two observatories in England located in a dark sky site as designated by the International Dark Sky Association. It hosts thousands of people every year and our telescopes open to the skies on every clear night. We have a range of specialist solar telescopes for daytime observing during the summer months, and telescopes from 3" aperture all the way up to 20" behemoths capable of showing visitors faint galaxies, comets and much more. The telescopes themselves sit in concrete pillars which go down in to the bedrock below the observatory, maintaining outstanding levels of stability. Some are computer controlled, allowing visitors young and old, the thrill of "driving" a telescope around the skies from the click of a mouse.
We look forward to seeing you very soon at one of our amazing events.