Scottish Dark Sky Observatory

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.”

Girls and their Mothers

 

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Busting the myth ‘like mother like daughter’ is Scottish photographer Kim Simpson. Showcasing in East Kilbride Central Library – from May 28 to June 30 – Simpson’s exhibition, Mothers and their Daughters, celebrates individuality.

She said: “I have been inspired by the experiences of raising my daughter, Lamaya, who is of mixed race. She has been raised in the same Scottish town that I grew up in, and while our experiences are largely similar there has unfortunately also been some negativity due to the colour of her skin.”

Simpson explained that as Lamaya grew her peers became more conscious of image and how hers differed to their own.

Simpson added: “My daughter had a particularly difficult school year in Primary 7, when a class full of children who she had been with for the last six years seemed to view her differently all of a sudden.

“I found it extremely hard to get the school to take action on this and felt that my concerns were being brushed off.”

Being white from a largely Caucasian town, Simpson saw there was apathy for the challenges faced by mixed race families. Realising others were also experiencing these frustrations, Simpson used her art to connect individual’s narratives.

She said: “Spending time with girls and women of mixed race who had grown up experiencing what my daughter had, and flourishing in spite of it, was inspirational.”

Simpson photographed sixteen families all together, resulting in a total of 48 images.

She recalled: “There were many stories shared, both positive and negative. People who lived pockets of the same city – some only minutes apart – had huge differences in social interactions with their local areas.”

Recognising the differences in maternal relationships, as well as the common challenges, Simpson’s work struck a chord with many.

She said: “I am overwhelmed at the amount of support this project has received from its infancy to exhibition planning. I am pleased to have created something that has been so well received.”

As well as personal significance, the project has professional significance as Simpson’s first solo tour.

She said: “Co-ordinating a solo touring exhibition has been a huge learning curve and great experience. I am now able to respond to the feedback gained during my exhibitions; allowing me to think bigger by incorporating talks and community projects in to my work. I am also looking to expand my existing projects with a real national significance.”

This is no mean feat, considering Simpson juggles exhibitions with paid work and parenting. Despite this challenge, she explained motherhood was what led her back to her passion for art.

Simpson said: “While most kids want to grow up to be a vet or a police officer, I wanted to be a wildlife photographer and work with David Attenborough. I also used to love sketching and painting, but never saw art as a viable career option.

“However I came back to art as an adult, during some time out of work when my daughter was born.”

While on this break Simpson took up painting again, working on leather and 3D objects. She began painting more intricate designs on shoes, a skill which eventually saw her win Best Customizing Designer at the UK Urban Fashion Awards, in 2007.

Despite this passion for paint, Simpson yearned to focus on photography.

She recalled: “I began spending more and more time considering themed images for each of my shoe designs, until eventually I was painting to match photo-shoot ideas. It was at this point I listened to my inner child and pursued photography full time.”

Simpson went on to study photography at City of Glasgow College, staying for four years, and earning a First Class honours degree.

She said: “The final two years of study saw me hone an interest in to the Visual Norm.”

This theme continues to be seen in Simpson’s Mothers and their Daughters exhibition, as well as providing inspiration for her next project.

She concluded: “I will be continuing this theme through an exhibition of new work, at the Dysfunction Gallery, in September 2016. This work will then be included in Glasgow’s Black History Month exhibition, during October.”