New observatory will help Western Isles reach for the stars

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Scotland’s top astronomer is to visit Gallan Head next month to finalise plans for a visitor centre that has the potential to become a tourist hotspot and boost the economy.

Over the past year Donny Mackay and Angus Morrison of Stornoway Astronomical Society have been working with the Gallan Head Community Trust helping design and plan the new Cetus Observatory – which will boast Scotland’s largest working telescope – and Visitor Centre on the headland at Gallan Head on the site of the former MOD base.

As well as two large 24-inch telescopes mounted in computer-controlled domes on the roof, the Cetus complex will house a 60-seat planetarium, a marine mammal monitoring and viewing centre with passive acoustic monitoring equipment plus giant wide-field binoculars, a solar telescope and a shop.

On the upper floor there will be a large cafe with spectacular views of St Kilda and the Flannel Islands on one side and over Loch Roag across to Bernera on the other.

Discussions are currently taking place that could lead to Scotland’s new Tropical Aquarium House also being sited in the large two-storey Cetus Complex, with tanks of tropical fish from around the world.

It is predicted that the Cetus Visitor Centre could become a major tourist attraction in a short space of time and deliver an immeasurable boost to the economy of the Western Isles and Scotland in general.

It is also is expected to create many new jobs on the island and, in addition, much work for local contractors and tradesmen in the two-year-long construction process.

During his visit next month, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown, who is patron of the Cetus Project, will meet with Donny, Angus and the trust to finalise the plans for the new development.

The Cetus observatory will house the largest working telescopes in Scotland and along with the giant wide-field binoculars that can also be utilised for astronomical observing, could become a prime destination for astronomers and the public in the event of a large comet arriving in the northern hemisphere, which would see hotels and guest houses on the Isle of Lewis experience a significant increase in bookings over the winter months.


Many enquiries have been received by Stornoway Astronomical Society regarding Donny Mackay’s research work into the possibility of the existence of a ninth planet in our Solar System.

Donny, a graduate in planetary science and astronomy and president of Stornoway Astronomical Society, has been investigating the Outer Solar System for some time, a region that has now become his specialist field of research.

He has been examining the orbital characteristics or parameters of all recently discovered minor planets beyond the orbit of Neptune and his research has revealed an interesting pattern emerging and the evidence would suggest the existence of a large Neptune-sized planet in a highly elliptical orbit located well beyond the orbit of Neptune.

It is amazing how someone can confirm the existence of a large planet that no one has ever seen before, but Donny’s evidence is convincing and indicates that the orbital period of this planet is around 14,000 years, ie the length of time it would take for this object to complete one full orbit around the Sun.

Donny said: “It is no longer a question of whether there is a ninth planet in our Solar System or not, but a question of where exactly on its orbit the ninth planet is located at this moment in time. The most suitable telescope for locating the ninth planet would be the large Subaru 8.2 metre telescope on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

“Due to the extreme distance involved, however, we would only be able to identify planet nine as a dot at this stage.”

Donny’s talk on The Search for Planet Nine was held in the Newton Centre, Stornoway, on Tuesday.