A NEW state-of-the-art observatory will open up the universe to a new generation of stargazers and give learners access to astronomy experts and research-grade kit.

The new facility has been created on the banks of Grassholme Reservoir, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham, by Northumbrian Water.

In recent years the company has been increasing public access and attractions at its reservoirs across the region by enabling activities such as walking, cycling, fishing and sailing.

At Grassholme, it decided to take advantage of Upper Teesdale’s incredible dark, open skies by refurbishing an underused building alongside a new purpose-built facility to create a destination for astronomers of all levels.

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One of the North East’s best-known astronomers, Gary Fildes, will help run the facility where the first public events are scheduled to take place on Friday, August 21.

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He said: “We have a robotic telescope in the observatory which is a research-grade piece of kit, that means we get great images at night of the sky, and do great science, which will help with the learning process, there is going to be a full set of meteorites than people can feel and a gravity well to demonstrate gravity.

“We’re going to be able to provide lots of different activities from family astronomy to more in-depth teaching and work with schools to support the national curriculum.”

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David Hall, Northumbrian Water’s head of leisure and transformation, hopes the observatory will help preserve the dark sky, help promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education and boost the local economy.

He said: “This is a fantastic location and a fantastic facility with an excellent, enthusiastic and knowledgeable team. We hope people of all ages will come and enjoy it.

“We try to think about our impact on local communities and have been very successful on the leisure side, the things we have done at other reservoirs have had economic benefits.

“There is huge potential to have significant benefits on the area and the region’s tourism industry, as people will come from all over to use the observatory and stay in B&Bs, go to pubs before a stargazing event and visit other attractions.”

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Mr Fildes, founder and ex-CEO of Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, who has been awarded an honorary Master’s Degree from the University of Durham and a Fellowship from Sunderland University for his contributions to astronomy, said: "The skies here are as dark as I have seen in the UK. Coupled with the unique accessibility of the location, Grassholme Observatory is perfectly placed to be a one stop destination for all things astronomy.

“Add to that the wonderful facility and breath-taking natural surroundings, this observatory will firmly establish itself in the UK as a tourist destination for stargazers for years to come.

“The Comet NEOWISE, which was a recent landmark of the night skies up in Teesdale and beyond, has really whetted the appetite of the public, and our new public observatory will be able to meet the demand.”

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He added: “I think the legacy will be in education and the preservation of dark skies, we’re providing a facility were people can understand where they are and how important astronomy can be in everybody’s life.”

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The facility will open from Wednesdays through to Sundays, offering late night sessions on the weekends. Private and corporate events are also catered for.

A schedule of events, online booking, and further information is available at bookwhen.com/grassholmeobservatory