Matt Jones

The Forgotten Telescope

When students at South Tyneside Marine and Technical College learned about navigation at sea, they studied astronomy using the College’s planetarium and observatory. Now that navigation is done using the Global Positioning System, these facilities have become sadly unused. The college, now a place for general further education, is being redeveloped, which will see the observatory demolished and the telescope relocated to Stockton-on-Tees.

Last night, a few of us were lucky to get access to the scope and spend a couple of hours observing. It’s a 15” Newtonian Reflector that’s built like a tank, and probably also weighs as much as a tank. Situated at the top of the main college building, it is supported by a reinforced steel column than runs from the ground floor up through the stair well, so the scope is very much part of the fabric of the building. Compared to the observatory at Kielder - which is architecturally interesting but a simple timber construction - this observatory has a kind of solidity and sense of permanence about it that makes you think that, given today’s need to build cheaply and quickly, its like will never be built again.