The Visitor Centre of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh is housed in the original Observatory Building, beneath the one of the iconic green telescope domes. Our purpose is to engage audiences with astronomy as a technology-enabled science, and celebrate the Royal Observatory Edinburgh’s ongoing and historical contribution in astronomical instrumentation and research.
As well as being a historic site, The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is a working observatory which houses nearly 140 staff and students. It encompasses two organisations: The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) which includes the Higgs Centre for Innovation and the Institute for Astronomy (IfA). The UK ATC is part of UK Research and Innovation, and the IfA is part of the University of Edinburgh.
Engineers at the UK ATC design extremely sensitive cameras and other instruments for many of the world’s best telescopes and for the big telescopes of the future. They are also finding innovative ways of using this technological expertise in fields outside of astronomy, including earth observation and medicine.
The research of scientists at the IfA tackles many of the big questions in astronomy, including the search for life-bearing planets and studying the oldest and most distant objects in our universe.
Edinburgh’s first Royal Observatory sits on Calton Hill near the city centre. In the late 1800s a proposal to abolish it was put before the House of Lords, but Lord Lindsay (Earl of Crawford) said “It shall not be!” He donated scientific equipment and his priceless collection of scientific books to allow the establishment of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh on Blackford Hill.
The observatory’s Crawford Collection still houses Lord Lindsay’s donated books and manuscripts. The collection contains a copy of the first edition of almost every important book in the history of astronomy and related fields, including works by Newton and Galileo.
The observatory building was finished in 1896, and included laboratories, offices, and a library. The two copper covered, rotatable domes housed state-of-the-art equipment for studying the night sky. The telescopes here were used by professional astronomers for scientific research all the way through to the 1970s. The observatory building is now A-listed as an outstanding example of its kind and an important part of the local and national heritage.