Observatory Tower on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh

The Royal Observatory Open Day

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Sat 29 Sep 2018

I love Doors Open Day! Every September, hundreds of buildings in Scotland open up to the public for free, and we get to see something different and brilliant. This weekend it’s Doors Open Day in Edinburgh. So today, I went along to the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill with my husband and two children, who are 3 and 5 years old. There was a wonderful family-friendly event on, where we could look around the building and also take part in some fun activities.

Inside the grounds of the Royal ObservatoryWe arrived at about 2 pm and it was really busy! We were worried that we might not get in, because it said in the brochure that they would close early if it got too busy. But it was fine. There was free parking on site and luckily we found a space easily.

There were lots of staff on hand to guide visitors around the building and answer any questions. They gave us a map, which detailed all of the things that were going in. And they gave the kids a “passport” so they could collect stickers for each activity they took part in.

Girl holding a meteoriteWe decided to start with a dome tour, as that’s the most unique and striking part of the building. They took visitors up in groups and we had around a 15-minute wait to get in. While we queued up, scientists came round to speak to the children and showed them interesting things. We even got to hold a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, which was pretty cool!

The dome tour was really interesting. There is a huge telescope in there that astronomers once used. The walls could rotate and part of the roof came off, to allow them to see into the night sky. However, they don’t use it any more. There are newer, more advanced telescopes around the world, in countries with fewer clouds and less light pollution, and they share their readings with the observatory.

Telescope inside Dome at Royal Observatory in EdinburghToday, the observatory is the base for the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the national centre for astronomical technology. Here, scientists design and build instruments for major telescopes. They also carry out observational and theoretical research.

As we went around the other parts of the building, we learned about the different things they do at the centre. There were arts and crafts for the kids (with ridiculous amounts of glitter glue and lots of mess), face-painting and other activities. They even made their own lego versions of the Gaia spacecraft, which they could take home with them afterwards.

While the kids were colouring in, my husband and I managed to hear a short talk, “How far away are the stars?”, from Professor Andy Lawrence of the University of Edinburgh. It was really interesting, and I thought it was a good idea to put it in the same room as the arts and crafts, so that parents could listen in too.

We had a brilliant couple of hours at the Royal Observatory. The kids had a ball, and at the end they showed their completed passports and received an engineers badge, which they both wore with pride. Although it was a busy event, it was so well organised, we didn’t have to wait long to see anything. And the views from Blackford Hill were the icing on the cake. Such a beautiful location!

View of Edinburgh from the Royal Observatory EdinburghI would highly recommend a visit to the Royal Observatory. They run a number of public events throughout the year. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a year for the next Doors Open Day, but it’s definitely worth a visit!

The Royal Observatory, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, EH9 3HJ