Norman Lockyer Observatory celebrates its centenary

With a very special guest...

Published: May 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

NLO Chairman David Strange and Norman Lockyer himself at the centenary


The Norman Lockyer Observatory celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday 19 May, with a centenary event and the official opening of a new observatory dome by Dr Brian May.

Around 300 people came to the event, and were introduced to the rich history of the observatory, which was set up in 1912 by 76-year-old Sir Norman Lockyer on retirement from his post as Director of the Solar Physics Observatory in Kensington, London.

In 1869, Lockyer discovered the element helium whilst observing the Sun.

He was using the technique of spectroscopy that disperses starlight, making the element visible in the spectrum.

Before he officially opened the Connaught Dome, Dr May revealed a long association with the observatory, “I’m very honoured to be here to cut the ribbon,” he said.

“My association with the NLO goes back a long way.

I came here as a 13-year-old boy.

“I was already inspired by astronomy and thought that I’d maybe like to do it as a career, so my dad phoned up the observatory and asked if we could visit when we were down here on holiday in Sidmouth.

“We were shown around by a chap called Dr Barber, who had some fascinating things to show me.

I remember there were hundreds of little glass slides, and Dr Barber explained that these were taken with a spectroscope,” said Dr May.

By taking pictures of a star field with a glass prism at the focus point, instead of an eyepiece or camera, you get a whole line for each star, and not just a point of light.

This reveals a lot about what the star is made from.

“It was very inspiring to be here then,” said Dr May,

“And I did end up pursuing the path of astronomy, kind of in parallel with music I suppose.”

The new Connaught Dome he opened houses a 20-inch Newtonian reflector, which joins three historic refractors on the site above Sidmouth in Devon: twin 12- and 10-inch Grubb refractors and a 10-inch Cooke refractor.

Speaking after the opening, NLO Chairman David Strange said, “It has been a memorable day.

For me. what’s important is that we are recognising and celebrating the fact we’ve made it to 100.

“In 1983 the site was threatened with demolition and redevelopment, but thanks to the good people of Sidmouth who raised the money for the site to continue as an observatory, we continue to preserve original and historic material here, and carry out new projects, like the Connaught Dome, astrophotograhpy and meteor detection using radio signals.”

The Norman Lockyer Observatory holds regular public observing events and talks.


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