Exciting discovery as Sidmouth observatory reopens

Norman Lockyer Observatory

Norman Lockyer Observatory - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth’s Norman Lockyer Observatory opens its doors to the public again this week after being closed for two years because of the Covid pandemic. 

And, in the run-up to its reopening, there has been an exciting development relating to one of the observatory’s most important artefacts – the Mond telescope. 

James Lockyer operating the huge Mond telescope at the Norman Lockyer Observatory

James Lockyer operating the huge Mond telescope at the Norman Lockyer Observatory - Credit: Norman Lockyer Observatory

The observatory will hold a public talk on winter constellations on Thursday, January 27 at 7.15pm, followed by a planetarium show and historic telescope tour, with viewing if the conditions are clear. 

It will then be open every other Thursday evening, with the next event on February 10. 

The historic Mond telescope is not yet on display, as members are in the process of installing it as an exhibit. It was a key piece of the observatory’s equipment in the 1930s, but was sold to a scientist on the Isle of Man when Exeter University took over the site in 1985. Following his death, his family donated it back, dismantled and packed in boxes. 

At the time of the dispersal sale, some parts of the telescope were missing, including one of its lenses. But now it seems the component has mysteriously turned up. 

The telescope lens found in the grounds of the Norman Lockyer Observatory

The telescope lens found in the grounds of the Norman Lockyer Observatory - Credit: Norman Lockyer Observatory

The observatory’s chairman David Strange said: “We were astonished to discover a large lens and guide telescope abandoned in the gorse in the observatory grounds last week. From where these came is a complete mystery, but the exciting news is that we believe this large seven-inch lens was one of the four astrographic lenses that were originally used on the Mond telescope, since this was missing at the time of the dispersal sale. So maybe it was returned anonymously, having been stolen 35 years ago!” 

The guide telescope found in the grounds of the Norman Lockyer Observatory

The guide telescope found in the grounds of the Norman Lockyer Observatory - Credit: Norman Lockyer Observatory

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The guide telescope is a small device with cross-hairs like a rifle sight, used to keep the main telescope precisely focused on what it is observing. The one found with the lens may also be part of the Mond, but further research is needed to find out. 

The Mond telescope on display at the Norman Lockyer Obervatory, circa 1933.

The Mond telescope on display at the Norman Lockyer Obervatory, circa 1933. - Credit: Dr. W.J.S. Lockyer

The Mond telescope may not be on display yet, but visitors to the Norman Lockyer Observatory will find plenty to see. The entrance hall and ticket office have been refurbished with new interactive screens, adding to the existing displays of the solar system and the history of the observatory. The orrery - a working 19th-century clockwork model of the solar system – is also on show. 

For details of opening time and events at the observatory visit its website.