University unveils new £200,000 telescope at Alston Observatory

Astronomy fans in Preston are celebrating after the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) unveiled a new £200,000 telescope.

The highly specialised 0.7m diametre mirror Altitude-Azimuth reflecting telescope has taken pride of place at the University’s Alston Observatory.

It is the largest telescope of its kind at a university in the north of England and the third largest in the UK.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, Director of UCLan’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, said: “This is such a unique telescope because of its sheer size. Where a smaller telescope can see planets and the moon, this can see distant galaxies, nebulae and ‘deep sky objects’ so it’s very exciting. Throughout our extensive tests we have already taken detailed shots of the moon, Orion and Jupiter.”

“It’s also special because it will be used by our undergraduates rather than postgraduates and PhD students. It’s a huge draw for new students to know they will be using such a fantastic scope on a regular basis for their undergraduate studies.”

In addition, local community groups will have the opportunity to use the 2.1metre high scope, with Nasmyth focus.

He said: “Astronomy is very popular and as such we do a lot of outreach work with schools, children’s clubs, like the Brownies and Cubs, but also with local astronomical groups and societies. This new telescope means we can show even more of the universe to lots of interested parties.”

The telescope has been dedicated to Moses Holden, a lecturer who taught astronomy at Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge (now UCLan) back in 1828. A plaque was unveiled by his biographer Stephen Halliwell.

Created by Planewave, in America, and imported by Green Witch, the telescope was delivered to the Alston site in August 2015. It was delicately craned into the building in two sections before the installation took place over the winter months. It was mounted on a solid concrete plinth, based on foundations more than a metre underground, and isolated from the rest of the building to avoid vibrations. The telescope ‘tube’ is constructed of carbon-fibre rods supporting the secondary mirror while the primary mirror sits in a yoke mount allowing the telescope to rotate both horizontally and vertically.

See the photo album of the launch event here.