Observatory plans at Gallan Head are gathering pace

The disused MoD site at Gallan Head, Uig.
The disused MoD site at Gallan Head, Uig.

The Gallan Head Community Trust’s ambitious plans to redevelop the disused MOD station has taken a step forward after forging two new partnerships.

GHCT intend to develop a multi-purpose observatory at Gallan Head, Uig, and have now joined forces with the University of St Andrews and Stornoway Astronomical Society as part of its Cetus Project, which aims to attract visitors to observe and listen to the island’s rich marine wildlife during the day and to enjoy its spectacular views of the Milky Way at night.

GHCT is in the final stages of a community buyout following a process administered by the Scottish Government, known as “Community Right to Buy”.

Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, will be Patron of the Cetus project.

Stornoway Astronomical Society will work with GHCT on the phased development of observatory facilities on the peninsula, with the aim of creating opportunities for interest, enjoyment and education, building on success towards the design and development of the observatory.

Meanwhile, Fife-based SA Instrumentation Ltd will provide assistance and equipment to monitor marine wildlife sounds and movements from the Gallan Head, across Loch Roag to Old Hill and Berisay.

A spin-out company of the University of St Andrews, SA Instrumentation are pioneers in real time autonomous acoustic detection, using Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) for marine mammal monitoring.

Martin Hayes, GHCT Chairman, said the Cetus project is part of the Trust’s vision for sustainable improvement of the local economy, social and natural environment.

He commented: “Our aim is to establish a multi-purpose observatory where visitors can study and enjoy the dark skies, the marine wildlife of Loch Roag, and the remarkable natural and historical environment. The project is dependent upon successful completion of the community buyout of MOD Aird Uig, expected to conclude later this year.”

Gallan Head has no light pollution and, on a clear night, the Milky Way appears to the naked eye as an almost solid band across the sky.

Professor and Leverhume Emeritus Research Fellow (comet-star collisions physics) in The School of Physics and Astronomy in The University of Glasgow, Professor John Brown’s solar research won him a Gold Medal (Geophysics) from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Professor Brown said: “The Cetus project is bold, imaginative, and exciting and I am very happy to support the Trust in their venture,” he said. “I look forward to taking an active role in advising the Trust on the project.”

Stornoway Astronomical Society President Donny Mackay described the Gallan Head as the ‘perfect place’ to locate an astronomical observatory.

“The peninsula is listed by the Royal Astronomical Society as an official dark skies area and there is a clear line of sight from all compass points.

“Our aspiration is for a large planetarium in a main observatory building, an attraction for visitors at any time of day, whatever the weather.”