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 England who 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 received 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 an educational outreach charity situated within one of the largest International Dark Sky Parks in Europe.
We are one of the largest outreach observatories for astronomy and physics in the UK and each year, more than 20,000 members of the public visit the observatory to learn about space and astronomy, and to make use of our facilities to explore the night sky.
We have a range of specialist telescopes, including solar telescopes for daytime observing during the summer months. At night though, we have both refracting and reflecting telescopes ranging from 3" aperture all the way up to 16" behemoths capable of showing visitors the planets, nebulae, distant galaxies 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.
In April 2018, to add to the main observatory, the Gillian Dickinson Astro-Imaging Academy was opened on site. This building provides an additional warm room, separate kitchen area and even more telescopes – along with a dedicated control room to manoeuvre them. The equipment in here is used solely for astrophotography. Sensitive CCD cameras attached to these high quality instruments allows us to capture the wonders of the cosmos under our incredibly dark skies.
In addition to the observatory itself, events and activities regularly take place in the wider community. The largest part of this is our rapidly expanding schools programme. A current project within the North of Tyne Combined Authority will see around 10,000 pupils each year, over the next 3 years, experiencing engaging educational sessions delivered by our experienced astronomers. This engagement involves making use of our inflatable planetarium to bring Kielder’s dark skies into school halls, along with workshops orientated around our unique resources and expertise - such as our meteorite collection.
We look forward to seeing you very soon at one of our amazing events.