Royal Observatory of Edinburgh

Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Located 3 miles (5 km) south of the centre of Edinburgh on the eastern slopes of Blackford Hill is the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh. Built 1892-6 in red sandstone by W. W. Robertson, an architect with the Ministry of Works, the building features green copper cupolas and has been described as a Graeco-Roman fantasy. Subsequently various other buildings have been added to the complex.

This new Royal Observatory - on what was then farmland on the edge of the city - came about for two reasons; firstly observations at the old observatory on Calton Hill were plagued by smoke pollution from the railway and the city-centre homes and industry which affected its work, and secondly funding had been cut and the observatory was threatened with closure. Horrified by the closure threat, James Lindsay, the 26th Earl of Crawford, offered his considerable collection of books and instruments on the strict condition that a new observatory was built to house them.

The Observatory continues to have an intimate relationship with the University of Edinburgh, whose Science Faculty lies nearby at the King's Buildings. The University's Institute for Astronomy is located at the Observatory and the Astronomer Royal holds a Professorship in Astronomy.

Although the location is no longer ideal for local observation, with the problems of light and other forms of pollution, the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh remains an international centre of astronomical research, with data links to major UK-funded collaborative telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, La Palma in the Canary Islands and New South Wales, Australia. It also houses the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, which designs state-of-the-art astronomical instruments and computer software.

Today the Observatory includes a visitor centre, which was opened in 1981. It offers a variety of exhibits on modern astronomy, optics and space, together with panoramic views of the city.

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