York Museums Trust Observatory

Abstract

York Museums Trust is an independent charity which was set up in 2002 to manage some of the most important museum collections in York: York Castle Museum; Yorkshire Museum, Observatory and Gardens; York Art Gallery and York St Mary's. All the venues were previously managed by City of York Council, which still owns all the buildings and collections and has agreed to long-term funding of the Trust. Our overall visitor numbers have increased from 387,000 in the first full year of operation to 531,135 in 2010.

York is a tourist city attracting visitors from across the UK and from all around the World. But most of our visitors are unaware of the city’s astronomical history. York played a crucial role in the development of astronomy in the 1780s when York-based astronomers John Goodricke and Edward Piggot laid the foundations of modern measurement of the Universe through their observations of stars of varying brightness.

The Observatory in the Museum Gardens, York was built in 1832 and is Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory. Its 4in refractor telescope was built by York man Thomas Cooke in 1850 before he went on to make the then-largest telescope in the world. The Observatory is right in the heart of the city, in its most popular park, making it ideally situated for public events.

This pilot project aims to bring together different interested groups from across the city, to find new ways of working together to engage the general public and find new audiences. Public interest in astronomy has been sparked by the BBC’s Stargazing Live programmes in January 2011, so now is a good time to promote astronomy and to get the public more involved. Partnership working is essential to this project. The Observatory is superbly located to reach new audiences. Its city centre location and historic equipment allows observations ofthe moon and the larger planets of our own solar system, providing a great introduction to astromony through observations which can y be achieved by the amateur astronomer. By working with a range of partners we can promote current astronomical research and open up a choice of further opportunities for newly engaged audiences such as:
York Astronomical Society’s Star Parties and events;
Short courses at the University of York Centre for Lifelong Learning;
Curatorial Talks and science displays at the Yorkshire Museum;
Volunteering opportunities with York Museums Trust.

This project will establish the Observatory as a hub for Astronomy across the city.

The Yorkshire Museum collections have been at the heart of recent research led by astronomer Martin Lunn MBE. This has included analysis of the Middlesborough meteorite and dating past supernovae through collaboration with historians.

University Students – working with our co-partners we will pilot a student-led project to open the Observatory during the Illuminate Festival . Illuminate is an established arts festival in York held annually during the last week in October and designed to encourage people to stay in the city after dark. The students will design and deliver – with additional support when needed - a series of events to engage the general public with astronomy and their own areas of research, and raise awareness of the Observatory and the history of astronomy in the city.
York Museums Trust has the expertise in managing public events to support the students fully with regard to safety and appropriate content.

Teachers – we will work with 5 teachers from local primary and secondary schools, supporting them
to use the Observatory and the Cosmodome (which we have shared use of with our co-partners.) The teachers will plan and deliver – with additional support when needed – an astronomy project in their school with at least one class of pupils, which will involve a trip to the Observatory, where possible after dark.

Volunteers - Currently the Observatory opens each Saturday during the day, manned by for the general public to see inside the building and to find out about York’s historic astronomers. We will offer the volunteers additional training to become more involved with a broader range of public activity, including evening opening and schools delivery through the projects above.

York Astronomical Society - some of our key volunteers are members of the York Astronomical Society. This project will encourage our links with the society; increasing their involvement in public events at the Observatory, and promoting the society to visitors to the Observatory.

Talks - a series of public talks relating to the Yorkshire Museum science collection to complement the Observatory programme will be planned and delivered by York Museums Trust, the University of York and freelance astronomer, Martin Lunn MBE.

YMT sees this is a pilot project, designed to explore new ways of working with the Observatory and partners across the city to engage new audiences with astronomy. On successful completion of this pilot we intend to seek further funding from appropriate sources to continue and build the project.

Publications

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