An Introduction to the Chesterfield Observatory
The Lecture Room
The Chesterfield Barnett Observatory - to give it it's official name - was built over a three year period and was completed in 1960. It's a wonderful facility that comprises of a lecture room with all mod cons - a large flat screen monitor for presentations, videos and live feeds from the main telescope and a kitchen which is in constant use on club nights and open days to keep everyone's needs for tea and coffee satisfied. The lecture room also has wheelchair friendly access as does the toilet.
In The Dome
Next to the lecture room is our huge 18" telescope (that's its diameter not its length!) that according to the Sky at Night magazine is the 9th largest amateur telescope in the UK. Have a look at the observatory photo galleries found under the Astronomical Photos menu item at the top of this screen to get an appreciation of how big this telescope is.
The telescope is motorised but not to make it easier to move - it's so well balance it can be moved with just a couple of fingers – but so that it keeps moving in the opposite direction and at the same speed as the earth's spin on its axis. The reason for this is simple. Everyone knows that all the stars move all the time but that's down the earth moving. So if you want to look at a star for a long time in a telescope, you need to keep the telescope synchronised with the earth's movement. You might not think you’d want to look at any object in space for long but you’d be surprised at how much detail you can see through the telescope and when you start looking at something like the moon or Jupiter or Saturn or a deep space gas cloud, you really want to take your time to absorb the beauty and detail before you.
When you visit the observatory, you’ll get the chance to learn as much as you want about the history of the telescope and the people who built it. Chesterfield owes a huge debt of gratitude to Horace Barnett and his family and friends who were affectionately referred to as the Newbold Nutters because it was such a big undertaking that few believed they would succeed in building the observatory.
Apart from the main telescope, the Chesterfield Astronomical Society who look after the facility provide other equipment for its members to use including a solarscope designed specifically to look at the sun through a very clever filter that allows you to see much more than just the bright yellow disk we think of when we bring an image of the sun to mind. Have a look at the photos in the Solar gallery to see how stunning the sun looks through our solarscope.
We also have the capability to do a spot of radio astronomy. This is a specialist area of astronomy that uses a an aerial and radio waves to capture radar-like readings on a computer of objects entering the earth’s atmosphere. This can be used during meteor showers to record the number of meteors and shows what happens to them. Most simply burn out but a few explode and this is captured on the software. Results are shared with the British Astronomical Association to help them analyse meteor showers.
There are a number of other telescope owned by the society including an advanced ‘goto’ telescope that uses computer technology to automatically move to stars and deep space objects of the astronomer’s choice so that everyone – no matter what their knowledge of the skies may be – can locate and look at specific stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae. Before the arrival of computers it took a lot of knowledge and skill to locate many deep space objects but now, they can be found in moments simply by selecting them from a catalogue and pressing a button!
If you want to capture images of your favourite astronomical objects, the society owns cameras and attachments specifically designed to work with telescopes and telescope mounts. Have a look at our members’ photos in galleries on this site to get a feel for what can be done with a camera and a telescope.
How It’s Cared For
The Chesterfield observatory is a modern, fully equipped facility fit for the 21st Century thanks the tireless efforts of many of our members and the fantastic support from the local community. Grants from organisations, contributions from local societies, donations from the public and the membership fees willingly paid by our members (often along with other occasional donations that are made without fuss) have, along with work carried out by local tradesmen made the observatory a place that Chesterfield is proud of. It is that continuing level of support that will ensure the observatory survives long into the future to benefit many generations to come. Thank you to everyone – our members, our neighbours, the local community, our sponsors and the local media for all you do.
A Special Thank You
We renovated the observatory with a massive funding boost from Viridor. Here's a link to the story on their website:
Their generosity has allowed us to make big changes at the observatory that we simply would never have been able to fund were it not for Viridor. Our enduring thanks to them for all their support.