THEN & NOW Hidden space on rooftops
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