THEN & NOW Hid­den space on rooftops

Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser - - Then & Now - Judith Ton­ner

There was a stel­lar sight in the Ad­ver­tiser eight years ago as a sparkling hid­den gem right in Air­drie town cen­tre took cen­tre stage.

Stargaz­ers looked on with in­ter­est as the dome of the town’s ob­ser­va­tory, on the top floor of the li­brary on Well­wynd, was re­placed as part of an over­all £500,000 re­fur­bish­ment.

Our edi­tion of Oc­to­ber 21, 2009, showed the un­usual pic­tures of the unique con­struc­tion project.

Ai rdr i e A s t ro­nom­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion sec­re­tary Aileen Malone re­called: “That was a re­ally ex­cit­ing day, just in­cred­i­ble.

“Part of the street had to be closed to make way for these huge ve­hi­cles. There was a crane tak­ing the old dome off the roof and putting it on the back of a lorry and then another to put the new one on.

“There were men in bright yel­low jack­ets try­ing to con­trol the traf­fic and lots of passersby just stand­ing watch­ing and won­der­ing what was go­ing on.

“We have pic­tures of the two domes in mid- air, which was quite sur­real, and when the new one was put in place it came down and just fit­ted per­fectly. It was great to see it all come to­gether.”

Des c r ibed by Nor th La­nark­shire Coun­cil of­fi­cials as a com­plex op­er­a­tion re­quir­ing the right weather con­di­tions, it saw the-year-old fi­bre­glass dome re­placed with a new ver­sion with a steel frame, pol­ished cop­per skin and a gy­ra­tor mechanism.

The dome 13 feet in di­am­e­ter, rises eight feet above the li­brary roof and weighs two-and-a-half tons.

Re­plac­ing the dome was the most eye-catch­ing el­e­ment of the ob­ser­va­tory up­grade, which also in­cluded a full restora­tion of its Cooke six- inch re­frac­tor tele­scope, which is now more than 150 years old.

The his­toric item had a me­chan­i­cal over­haul at an Ayr­shire work­shop while the roof works and re­place­ment dome were put in place.

Aileen said: “It was adapted to take mod­ern met­ric-sized eye­pieces. Un­til then it had still been us­ing the old size.

“It was lovely to see the tele­scope com­ing back and into a mod­ern ob­ser­va­tory with the new dome.

“From Novem­ber to Jan­uary we have drop- in ses­sions for the pub­lic, where peo­ple use the tele­scope and see if they can view the moon or plan­ets. It’s nice when some­one who’s never used the tele­scope sees the moon and their re­ac­tion to it is lovely for us to see.

“We used to feel sad when the weather meant peo­ple couldn’t view things but if it’s rain­ing we can still let peo­ple use it.

“We have the tele­scope set up to look at the town clock and have a bit of fun with that be­cause it re­verses things so it’s dif­fi­cult to work out what the time is.”

The ob­ser­va­tory had its of­fi­cial reded­i­ca­tion fol­low­ing the re­fur­bish­ment in March 2010 and has since had a va­ri­ety of celebrity vis­i­tors and has opened its doors – and the dome – to view a range of im­pres­sive ce­les­tial events.

Aileen said: “We were so lucky with the weather for the tran­sit of Mer­cury in May last year. It was just per­fect with no clouds, whereas for the tran­sit of Venus in 2012 we were all in the ob­ser­va­tory at 4am but it just clouded over.

“We’ve also watched the so­lar eclipse and we’ve had Apollo as­tro­nauts Char­lie Duke, Al Wor­den and Dick Gor­don vis­it­ing us.“There’s a mu­ral on the wall lead­ing to the ob­ser­va­tory, done just ahead of the re­open­ing by stu­dents from Glas­gow Met­ro­pol­i­tan Col­lege, and we tell chil­dren who come in that if they stand be­side Char­lie Duke’s por­trait, which he’s au­to­graphed, they’ll be in the foot­steps of a man who left his foot­steps on the moon.

“We have groups re­quest­ing to visit us and we al­ways go up to the ob­ser­va­tory when we have a vis­i­tor or some­one new join­ing our weekly As­tro­nom­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion meet­ings on Fri­days.”

The ob­ser­va­tory’s his­tory goes back to the foun­da­tion of Air­drie Li­brary. One room was turned into a mu­seum and housed a 3.25- inch tele­scope do­nated in 1896 by lo­cal as­tronomer Dr Reid.

When the li­brary be­gan to out­grow its orig­i­nal An­der­son Street premises and pre­pared to move to its cur­rent home on Well­wynd the pur­pose- built stargaz­ing dome was in­cluded in the plans from the out­set.

It is now one of only four pub­lic ob­ser­va­to­ries in the UK and cel­e­brated its 120th an­niver­sary in 2016. Its cur­rent cu­ra­tors are Bob Web­ster and Han­nah Malone, who last year be­came the first woman to take on the role.

Aileen added: “This time of year is the start of our busiest pe­riod, when the nights are longer and we can ob­serve the dark skies.

“Even now we still get peo­ple who visit and say, ‘I’ve lived in Air­drie all my life and didn’t know the ob­ser­va­tory was there’. It’s a hid­den gem.

“We have a great part­ner­ship with Cul­ture NL and the 2009 ren­o­va­tion was lovely as it showed that, as well as be­ing his­toric, the ob­ser­va­tory has a good fu­ture and is sup­ported go­ing for­ward.”

Tak­ing charge The cur­rent cu­ra­tors Bob Web­ster and Han­nah Malone

Changeover The new cop­per dome is raised into place

Touch­down The new dome is a per­fect fit

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