A new state-of-the-art observatory is set to be opened this year following a successful fundraising.
Stargazers will be able to use the new facility at Kielder Observatory when it opens in the summer.
Officials at the award-winning facility in Northumberland International Dark Sky Park have successfully raised more than £200,000 thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£89,700) and the Rural Development Programme for England: LEADER programme (£86,934).
Kielder Observatory, now in its ninth year, has established itself as the UK’s number one Dark Sky stargazing haven and visitors from across the world flock to marvel at the inky vistas of Kielder and to listen to the inspirational team of Astronomers, headed by founder director Gary Fildes.
The new building will enhance the visitor and educational experience of the existing observatory and will be the next stage in realising the ambition to develop an astronomical village, which would be a first for the UK.
Work will start during the next few weeks to enable the new facilities to be operational by late summer.
The new observatory will be fully accessible and comprise a single story building housing a fully automated telescope with retractable roof, presentation room, kitchen and toilet facilities.
In addition there will be external observation with fully accessible deck areas.
Kielder Observatory currently welcomes over 23,000 visitors per year with the new facilities expecting to attract more educational and community groups from visiting schools, colleges and community groups from across the North East.
Gary Fildes, founder director and lead astronomer of Kielder Observatory, said: “This new observatory will enable the science team to provide even more resources to the community who visit us.
“Our aim is to ‘Enthuse Educate and Inspire’ all of our visitors and with the support of our partners across this wonderful region we will continue to excel.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Kielder Observatory is a hugely valuable asset for the North East and continues to grow in popularity each year.
“We’re delighted that National Lottery players can support this project to expand the observatory and enable more people to witness and learn about the outstanding natural heritage of Northumberland.”
Terry Carroll, chair of the Local Action Group of the LEADER programme, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support this latest project in the evolution of the Kielder Observatory.
“The Observatory already makes a massive contribution to rural tourism locally, particularly in the difficult winter months and the new facilities will surely build on this. The expertise and dedication of the staff and volunteers in engaging with and inspiring visitors and educational groups is exemplary.”
There is currently space for 36 visitors daily but with the plans moving the kitchen to the new observatory, it will create a further six spaces in the existing observatory along with space for 20 extra visitors in the new observatory.
The new observatory and existing observatory will create a combined 26 new spaces for evening visitors – which works out at 9,490 extra visitors annually along with schools and educational visitors to the observatory during the day.