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Kent stargazers to get one of country’s best telescopes

11:59 31 March 2012

Rosette nebula

Rosette nebula

Ian Hargraves

Mid-Kent Astronomical Society to get telescope from the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

The heavens are about to come a little closer to Kent after a team of stargazers staged a major coup to obtain one of Britain’s best telescopes.

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, agreed to give one of its professional telescopes to the organisation.

The Mid-Kent Astronomical Society already had its head in the clouds after staging a series of astonishing displays of its equipment for the public to use when they appeared on the BBC’s Stargazing Live programmes earlier this year.

Best loved on the evenings were the mountains on the Moon and awe-inspiring close-up views of Jupiter.

Now with the Edinburgh telescope on its way to the county, local stargazers will have an even better view of the sky at night.

Noel Clark, from the society said: “If people found the views through our other telescopes exciting; they will feel their brains being sucked into space by this baby.”

The half-metre aperture telescope is one of the largest in amateur hands. It was originally built in 1967 to train students at Edinburgh University, but it is now upgrading and making its original equipment available.

Local haulier Matt Swain has even agreed to transporting the huge piece of scientific equipment for free.

The donated Grubb Parsons half-metre telescope will be housed at the James Irwin Observatory in the grounds of Canterbury Academy and Adult Education Centre.

The society has a programme to refurbish the telescope, equip it with new instruments and use it for public observing, and in support of science teachers delivering astronomy in local schools. The society’s plans include providing disabled access by making live viewing possible in the ground floor warm-room and providing access to observing sessions via the internet.

Mike Phillips, chairman of the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society, said: “We have big plans for this telescope to provide views of our universe to school groups and all who are interested. We look forward to introducing many more people to the wonders of the night sky.”

He added: “Being awarded this incredible telescope is a real privilege, our members’ many years of experience and joy at observing the night sky can be built on, and research enhanced. It will harness enthusiasm as well as providing a much-needed resource for educational establishments and societies interested in astronomy across Kent”.

The telescope presently sits on top of the Royal Observatory building in Edinburgh. To remove it, the two ton dome will be lifted and a crane will lower it down in one piece.

The observatory received over a dozen applications from Europe and America for the equipment, but the one from Kent stood out, resulting in a stunned society chairman receiving a telephone call to say the bid had been successful.

Mark Collins of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, will oversee the removal. He said, “The Kent society made an excellent case for acquiring the telescope, and we are glad that it will continue to give service to UK astronomers for many years to come.”

Anyone wishing to look at the stars, or who are interested in the telescope can contact the group through its website at www.midkentastro.org.uk.

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