University College London Observatory

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University College London Observatory

University College London Observatory

About UCLO

Initially established as a University of London facility (as reflected in the name until 2015!), the Observatory has been exclusively managed by University College London since 1951. It is a hands-on teaching observatory, part of the Astrophysics Group in UCL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

We are equipped with five permanently mounted telescopes, two lecture/classrooms, and a specialist astronomy library. We are reasonably easily accessible from the main Bloomsbury campus, ensuring that students have good access to the telescopes.

In addition to observing, students are trained in data-reduction techniques, the practical applications of astrophysical theory, and computational astronomy. This training can take place in the context of an undergraduate degree module, a student project, or, for interested members of the public, as part of our higher-education Certificate in Astronomy

UCLO remains active in scientific inquiry, with a strong observational research programme in extrasolar planets. We are in the process of expanding our observing capabilities with the development of unattended (remote & robotic) observing modes, which we hope will culminate in a new large robotic telescope, a project for which funding is currently underway.

We offer guided tours to the public (booking required), and are actively engaged in outreach activities to schools. We are honoured to be affiliated to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

 

Further Information:

Location (lat, long): 51° 36’ 48”, -0° 14’ 32” (N 51°.613305, W 0°.242166)

Getting to UCLO

The Observatory is located off the northbound carriageway of the A1 in Mill Hill, North London. (There is no vehicular access from the southbound carriageway; pedestrians on the southbound side of the road must use the under-road subway just north of the Observatory.) It is easily reached by public transport:

 

We discourage arrival by car; entry to the site from the Watford Way is hazardous (drop-offs even more so), and there is no parking for tour visitors on site. A large, free public car park is located nearby, in Daws Lane (postcode for satnav is NW7 4SL; the subsequent short walk to UCLO is via the A1 pedestrian underpass, most easily reached from the alley that runs along the western side of Royal Mail Mill Hill Delivery Office). Parking is also available in the Mill Hill Broadway railway-station car park in Bunn’s Lane (pay & display, but free after 18:30).

Disabled visitors should contact us in advance to enquire about access; note that the site is not wheelchair-friendly, and has steep stairways.

Click through for a Google Map, or UK Street Map. The Observatory is on the north-bound side of Watford Way dual carriageway. (If in doubt, note that the Observatory domes are easily identifiable by zooming in on Google Maps’ ‘satellite view’ or street view.)

Rail Travel

The most convenient way to get to UCLO from central London is by the Thameslink rail service to Mill Hill Broadway (Travelcard zone 4), followed by a 10–15-minute walk to the Observatory.
The line has a number of stations in central London, including City Thameslink, Farringdon, and St. Pancras International. Journey times from Farringon and St. Pancras International are about 20 minutes. Oyster cards can be used on this route.

Trains run several times an hour throughout the day; timetables are available through the Thameslink web site.

 

Another useful resource for journey planning is the National Rail web site or call National Rail Enquiries on 0845 748 4950.

Bus Travel

Bus service 113 stops on the A1 (Watford Way) just past UCLO.
[For the “scenic route” you can catch the 113 from Oxford Street – but allow ample time for the journey!]

Services 186, 221, 240, and 251 stop at Mill Hill Broadway, a 10–15-minute walk from UCLO via Hartley Avenue.

Because bus timetables and routes change from time to time, we recommend that you check the Transport for London web site before travel.

Tube Travel

There are no nearby tube stations; the closest are Mill Hill East (shuttle service to Finchley Central on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line) and Colindale & Burnt Oak stations (Edgeware branch of the Northern Line), each around 2.5km distant (30–40 minutes on foot).

For tube travellers, the following may be tolerably convenient options:

  • Take the Northern Line (Edgware branch) to Hendon Central, then Bus 186 or 113 (the northbound bus-stops are over the road and up the hill from the tube station). These buses take about 10 minutes to reach a stop just past UCLO (although waiting times can be long).
  • Alternatively, take Bus Service 221 from Mill Hill East to Mill Hill Broadway (approx. 20 min) or Service 240 to Mill Hill Broadway Station (approx. 13 min).

London Underground information is available at www.tfl.gov.uk/tube/ or call 0845 330 9880.

From UCL

The simplest way to get to UCLO from UCL is to catch any eastbound tube from Euston Square to Farringdon, then change platform to catch a Thameslink mainline train towards Luton or St Albans, disembarking at Mill Hill Broadway. (Mainline trains run every 15–20 minutes during the day; journey time is 20–25 min.)

[The TfL journey planner may advise connecting at Kings Cross St. Pancras/St. Pancras International, but the interchange is much less straightforward.]

It’s then about 800m (somewhat over half a mile; a 10–15-minute walk) to the Observatory

Public Visits

The Observatory is a private teaching and research establishment, not a tourist attraction; it is not open to visitors, except as summarised below.

– Booking for 2017/18 season will open in September 2017 –
The Observatory holds free public open evenings, roughly fortnightly, on Fridays during UCL’s autumn and winter terms (October–March inclusive), 18:30–19:40 and 19:45–20:55. The earlier tour may be preferable for families with children, but note that the content and nature of the tours (including negotiating some steep, open-tread stairs) mean they may not be suitable for all children younger than 7–8 years old. (A Saturday-evening tour is usually also offered each term for visitors unable to attend on Fridays for, in particular, religious reasons; these visits start at 19:00.)

Visitors are given a short introduction to the Observatory by one of the guides, then divided into groups for a guided tour of the telescopes and facilities. During the tour season, only about 1 evening in 3 or 4 is clear, and in any event it may that neither the Moon nor the brighter planets are well placed for viewing. Nonetheless, if weather permits, visitors will normally be given the opportunity to view the sky through the Fry 8-inch refractor.

N.B. – unfortunately, the site is not wheelchair-friendly, with gravelled grounds and steep stairways. Disabled visitors, and those of limited mobility, should contact us well in advance to discuss access requirements.

There is no on-site visitor parking (other than by prior arrangement for disabled visitors). Recommendations for reaching the site are given here.

 

Advance booking is essential; tours are very popular, and places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. A calendar of tour availability is given below; note that we have a strict limit on numbers, so even if there are “places available”, this may mean only a single space.

Bookings requests should be made through the Observatory administrator, Mrs Kay Nakum, on 020 3549 5807, or by email to k.nakum@ucl.ac.uk

Sessions may be cancelled at short notice if, in our view, extreme weather conditions make it hazardous to travel to the Observatory or to visit the grounds (e.g., ice or snow). Under such circumstances we will make every reasonable effort to contact booked visitors, and an alternative session will be offered. Because of this, it is a requirement that a valid contact phone number be communicated to Kay or via email when booking, for each booking.

Schools visits

For school visits please see our Outreach information.

Private visits

We will consider requests for private group visits, subject to scheduling constraints. The itinerary will be similar to that for regular public tours (and is subject to the same caveats concerning weather conditions). Daytime visitors may be able to view the Sun using our specialised equipment. Charges are levied to cover staffing costs: 1–12 persons, £120; 13–24, £180; 25–36, £240. We regret that groups larger than 36 cannot normally be accommodated.

Personal programmes

From time to time we receive requests from amateur astronomers and others wishing to use Observatory equipment for personal research programmes. We regret that we must decline such requests, because of our teaching schedules, and because of H&S and security considerations. Interested parties may gain supervised access to the telescopes through our Certificate in Astronomy

Tours will be timetabled below for the period October 2017 to March 2018. Depending on your browser, you may need to click “Look for more” several times to bring up all available dates. Note that the Saturday slots are intended principally for those who, for religious or other reasons, are unable to attend on Fridays.]

Contact Us

Address: UCL Observatory
553 Watford Way
Mill Hill Park
LONDON
NW7 2QS
Administrative office: Mrs Kay Nakum
020 3549 5807, k.nakum@ucl.ac.uk
(All general enquiries, including public visits.)
Schools visits: Dr Sarah Hutton
020 7679 7219, sarah.hutton@ucl.ac.uk
Location: Maps
Travelling to UCLO
Staff: Staff Profiles
(including email addresses)