UCL News


Reach for the stars

8 April 2005

An event at UCL's University of London Observatory has marked a new stage in the Campaign for UCL.

The observatory at Mill Hill A 'starlight reception' held at the observatory in Mill Hill, North London raised the profile of the observatory's development drive to UCL's alumni and friends.

Founded in 1925 through the gift of a telescope, the observatory is part of the Astrophysics Group of UCL's Department of Physics & Astronomy, providing a vital teaching resource to undergraduate students. The observatory also offers a service to its local community with school and special group visits, and regular open evenings where the public can visit and use the facilities.

However, the range of telescopes at the observatory will soon no longer be sufficient to meet the needs of modern astronomy students, explained Nina Caton from UCL's Development & Corporate Communications Office: "In order for UCL to provide the training needed for future careers in commercial environments, the observatory needs to install a new professional grade telescope, which will cost around £500,000."

With teaching observatories closing across the UK due to a lack of funding, the new telescope will help to ensure that this remains one of the best facilities within the UK, said Nina: "But unless the observatory at Mill Hill can offer up-to-date facilities, it is at real longer term risk."

Dr Peter Thomas, the Observatory Manager, explained: "We aim to purchase a one metre alt-azimuth mounted reflecting telescope. This would be the largest operational telescope in Britain today and has the potential to facilitate research quality observations."

The starlight reception introduced the need for the telescope to a mixed group of business leaders, UCL alumni with an interest in astronomy, contacts from professional and amateur astronomy circles and local Mill Hill residents. Attendees had a chance to look at the current equipment in the observatory, and guest speaker and UCL alumnus Professor Richard Ellis (now Director of Caltech Optical Observatories in the USA) talked about developments in astronomy over recent years, emphasising the importance that the telescope would have as a teaching resource.

"The reception went very well, and there was a great deal of interest in the project and enthusiasm for the development of the observatory," explained Nina. "The only issue with the 'starlight' reception was the fact that it was a very cloudy night and the stars were not visible!"

Image: The observatory at Mill Hill.

To find out more about the Campaign for UCL and the observatory use the links below.

Campaign for UCL
University of London Observatory