Dropping jaws and blowing minds is the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, one of the nation’s best -kept secrets.
SDSO resident astronomer, David Warrington, said: “The observatory is located within the Galloway Forrest Dark Sky Park, it has minimum street lighting, so less light pollution, and it is an optimum place to see more stars on a clear night.”
Nestled within the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, the observatory features a 20-inch Corrected Dall Kirkham telescope, in a 5-metre dome, and a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
Warrington said: “Telescopes of this size are something that people don’t often get to look through. People are often in awe of what they are seeing; such as craters on the surface of the moon, or the rings of Saturn, both of which have real wow factor!”
He added:“People get contemplative looking at the Milky Way, they talk about the massive distances of space, and it tends to get more philosophical than scientific.”
It’s no wonder then that the observatory has become a real romantic retreat.
Warrington recalled: “SDSO has lots of people come to it on date nights, a couple of times a year around valentine’s day we even hold events themed on the season, taking about astronomical phenomenon’s like the Heart Nebula.”
He added: “In fact we have had a few proposals and even a few weddings held at the observatory. It’s understandable, lots of people like to get engaged under the starry sky or to share their wedding with their friends and family here.”
Love has also been poured into developing the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory.
Warrington explained: “The SDSO started as a building to host telescopes, but now it’s taken a different direction; we now have the building with the planetarium and the gift shop, so people can take home memories and mementos even on cloudy nights.
“SDSO has also been able to turn a room into an exhibition space and we have had exhibitions around subjects such as Meteorites and Moon Memorabilia.”
The Moon Memorabilia exhibition featured artefacts such as signed posters from Apollo astronauts and Saturn 5 rockets, bringing its history to life.
Warrington said: “Astronomy used to be thought of as something only old men did in fields at night-time, but over the past ten years it has become more mainstream. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is working to make astronomy as accessible as possible.”
No matter a person’s age or ability, the observatory welcomes them to use their telescopes and explore the universe. The observatory also uses astero photography, to take pictures of the night sky and showcase astronomical objects.
Warrington said: “A large proportion of the work that we do is about education, getting school groups looking at the night sky in the planetarium, using the telescopes and linking it to the national curriculum.”
SDSO is open throughout the year; it has special star gazing sessions in the weekend and through the week. It also has special events, based on astronomical occurrences, which people can book online, through the SDSO website.
Warrington said: “November has the anniversary of Apollo 12 landing on the moon, so we will have anniversary events. In November there will be the Leonid Meteor shower.”
He added: “The Observatory has a winter solstice in December, with festive star gazing events, such as the Geminids Meteor shower.”
“As we get into the winter months the sky gets much darker and we get the chance of seeing that lovely Milky Way, with lots of bright skies; we switch over to winter sky gazing.”
In the autumn and winter months, the sun gets lower in the sky and star- gazers have longer periods of time to see the sights.
From the observatory people can see the moon in detail, the planet Venus, and the planet Saturn across the southern sky; as well as bright patterned constellations of stars, like Obrien, Taurus and Gemini.
Warrington concluded: “If anyone has ever looked up at the night sky in wonder and wanted to take it to the next step, to use a telescope to see it in more detail, then it is well worth coming to the observatory. If you want to learn more about space and astronomy then we can help.”