The world’s first large public use observatory within a gold tier Dark Sky Park was officially opened today at Craigengillan Estate, Dalmellington, by the Rt. Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland. Its location, on the edge of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, set up in 2009 by Forestry Commission Scotland, means that it enjoys some of the darkest skies in the world; the park itself being one of only ten in the world to be recognised by the International Dark-sky Association. Countless stars, the Milky Way, shooting stars, planets, comets and the Northern Lights are all visible from the area. The new observatory will provide a spectacular opportunity to view and appreciate the night sky through state-of-the art telescopes and imaging equipment. It is expected that the observatory will attract visitors to Dalmellington from across the world, increasing tourism and helping to regenerate an area which has witnessed the demise of a once thriving coal industry. As an important educational resource, it will benefit the local community and a much larger public audience of stargazers, amateur astronomers, schools, colleges and universities. And viewing will not merely be restricted to night time; daytime visitors can enjoy live-time links with observatories in Australia and other parts of the world. The 5m dome of the observatory was especially designed and air-freighted over from Australia and features a rotating, retractable roof to enable night time viewing from the magnificent state-of-the-art robotic telescope. First Minister Alex Salmond said: "The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is no less than stunning. "It is situated in one of only five gold tier dark sky parks in the world, and is the only public use observatory in a sky park anywhere in the world. "Curiosity about science and a passion for learning more about the world around us are the cornerstones of ensuring the next generations of innovators upon whom Scotland's future depends. That's why the Scottish Government is pleased to have been able to provide some financial support to this project and it's also why it's so encouraging to see local schools already forming links here. "The observatory at Dalmellington is a fantastic asset for the tourist economy in Ayrshire and Scotland generally. Most importantly, it is also a huge economic asset for the local community - attracting direct employment, encouraging visitors to come here and providing an inspirational resource for local children and adults alike."
Craigengillan Estate owner and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, Mark Gibson, said: “This is a day of celebration and the achievement of a dream. What we have here is something incredibly precious and incredibly exciting. This is the only public observatory within a ‘gold tier’ Dark Sky Park in the world. It will inspire people of all ages and backgrounds with a sense of wonder at the vastness and beauty of the heavens and the revelation of man’s place within the universe.”
Steve Owens of the International Dark-sky Association said: "The Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park has some of the best dark skies in Europe and I am pleased to announce that the International Dark Sky Association has confirmed a significant extension to the boundaries of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. This is the first time an extension has ever been awarded and it comes with the support of the landowners and South and East Ayrshire Councils. This is a welcome addition and a sign that more and more people are recognising the value of a truly dark sky".
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council, was among the guests invited to the launch event. He said: “The Dark Sky Observatory will be a huge asset for East Ayrshire in terms of the tourism and educational benefits it will bring to the area. It should attract not only local visitors, but many tourists and keen stargazers from around the world, who I’m sure will be extremely impressed with the new facility. This in turn will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area and will really put East Ayrshire on the map.” The project was made possible due to the support of the following organisations: Ayrshire LEADER; Cumnock and Doon Valley Minerals Trust; East Ayrshire Council; The Monument Trust; William Grant & Sons Ltd; Eden Charitable Trust; Barr Environmental through the Landfill Communities Fund; James Weir Foundation; The Robertson Trust; Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Scottish Government. The Observatory will officially open to the public at the end of October. Details of opening hours and events will be on the website: www.scottishdarkskyobservatory.co.uk