PLANS have been submitted to turn a observatory into a hub for space tourism.

Situated under some of the finest dark skies in Europe, Kielder Observatory has submitted plans for a major new facility which will transform space tourism in the North East and enhance its distance learning offer about the Universe.

Located at Kielder Water and Forest Park, in Northumberland, the plan is to create a radio astronomy facility and is seeking planning permission from Northumberland County Council to site a new, five-metre-diameter, Spider 500 radio telescope.

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Radio astronomy is an observing technique that is weather independent and delivers important observations that have supported the Big Bang theory and discovered new objects, such as pulsars.

Catherine Johns, CEO of Kielder Observatory, said the move into radio astronomy would allow Kielder to contribute to worldwide scientific research, attract university research into Northumberland and develop its remote outreach activities.

She said: “This investment would make a dramatic difference to our astronomy offer, especially now when people are understandably reluctant to travel, as it would mean you can access the observatory remotely. A school child in Sunderland or Darlington, for example, would be able to experience Kielder without setting foot here."

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The acquisition and installation of the telescope would be mostly funded by the Tanlaw Foundation.

Kevin May, forest management director for North England Forest District, said: “We believe this telescope will be unique in the forests we care for, building the profile of Kielder and Northumberland, and will allow many people to experience the Kielder skies via remote access. It will build our astrotourism offer across the North and educate people on the value of conserving and building natural capital awareness at an important time globally.”

Located just a few miles from the Scottish border, high upon Black Fell, the site for Kielder Observatory was chosen as one of the locations in the UK which has the least amount of light pollution.

It is one of just two observatories in England which are in protected dark sky areas, as certified by the International Dark Sky Association and it attracts 20,000 visitors a year.

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With the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, the observatory is opening its doors on August 1, with social distancing measures in place and group sizes reduced from August to October.

Ms Johns said: “We’re in the process of making all the necessary preparations to reopen and to ensure that people can continue to enjoy the wonders of the Universe in a safe way.”

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