The stars may be out – if the weather plays ball

St Andrews University Observatory
St Andrews University Observatory

St Andrews stargazers have an opportunity to see the night sky through the largest telescope of its kind in the world next week, when the university’s observatory throws its doors open to the public.

And with fingers crossed for a clear night, astronomers at the university say that visitors will be able to follow the transit of an exoplanet – a planet which orbits a star outside the solar system.

Visitors will also have the first chance to see a new mural at the observatory, depicting research at the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling. The mural shows animals that have been the subject of centre projects, as well as equations used in the centre’s work.

But as always, the highlight of the open night will be the James Gregory Telescope, with its 0.94 meter aperture. It is a unique combination of old and new technology, conceived and constructed in St Andrews in the 1950s, inaugurated 1962, and now computer controlled and operated with a digital camera.

In the last year, it has been used to discover extrasolar planets, to derive the shapes of asteroids in our solar system, and to analyse the two-year eclipse of the young star RW Auriga – the first-ever long-lasting eclipse of the star in more than a century of observation.

Open Night at the Observatory is next Saturday (November 26) between 6pm and 9pm. Admission is free.