History of the Observatory

2010 onwards


Original observatoryThe Marsh Telescope begins a set up upgrades as a new set of computer-controlled motors will be installed for the mount and dome to prepare it for a future return to imaging use.

The Nubiscope scanning infrared radiometer (right) is installed, allowing whole sky scans every 10 minutes. A super-accurate GPS/GLONASS receiver is also installed to do GNSS meteorology.

The 1970s 14-inch Celestron telescope is dismantled to make way for the observatory's fifth computerised 16-inch Meade LX200.


After the successful automation of the Chris Kitchin Telescope, the remaining Meade LX200s, 3 additional 16-inch and a 14-inch are also upgraded. These 5 are now able to autonomously take images every clear night, with observing plans being submitted by students and staff over the internet.

A new colour AllSky camera is installed alongside the monochrome night-time one, extending coverage throughout the day to provide 24-hour recording.

Former Principal Technical Officer Bob Forrest is award with a Fellowship by the University for his leading role in the development of the observatory during his 26 years working at Bayfordbury. Under Bob's guidance the observatory expanded with 3 new domes, 5 new optical telescopes, 4 new radio telescopes and the Patrick Moore Building.

On 21 January NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day is chosen to be a 6-month long exposure of Bayfordbury Observatory, taken with a pinhole camera by artist-in-residence Regina Valkenborgh.

See news story in Welwyn Hatfield Times

A 116 megapixel mosaic of the Moon taken at Bayfordbury in February is shortlisted for the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.


A LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is successfully commissioned in the atmospherics dome. This provides a profile of atmospheric composition up to an altitude of 20km. See the image on Flickr.

A robotic sun photometer is installed, linking in with NASA AERONET network to provide detailed measurements of aerosols in the atmosphere. See the image on Flickr.

The same year sees the Chris Kitchin Telescope begin automated operation, becoming the first telescope to make observations at Bayfordbury with nobody present. See the image on Flickr.

In May an image of the Sun taken at Bayfordbury in January is used in the BBC's Sky at Night.

In March the first signal from the interferometer is detected; fringes of the transitting sun.


Works starts on the conversion of the 16-inch dome to an atmospheric remote sensing station. It includes several optical polarimeters and other instruments for observing clouds and aerosols. Later that same year, work begins on the construction of a new three dish interferometer. See the image on Flickr.

Late 00s


An AllSky camera is installed to provide continuous recording of the entire night-time sky, one of 6 such cameras the University will install across the UK. Over the next 3 years this camera will take 1.5 million images.

UH hosted the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) incorporating RAS NAM and EAS JENAM which includes an article on pages v - viii written by Jim Collett, lecturer at UH, on How space, and a few stars, came to Hatfield.


A new 16-inch Meade LX200GPS is installed, replacing the old Brinton reflecting telescope.


A new 14-inch Meade LX200GPS is installed, specialising in video astrophotography.
Staff and alumni gather at Bayfordbury to celebrate the 40th anniversary of astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire. See the image on Flickr.


This year sees the naming of Chris Kitchin Telescope, a new Meade LX200GPS purchased by the East of England Science Learning Centre.

The Vince Telescope is rehomed as a guidescope on the Marsh Telescope.

Stuart Folkes and Doug Weights image the L-Type brown dwarf LSR 0602+3910 from Bayfordbury, believed to be the first brown dwarf imaged from the UK.

The early 00s


The East Herts Rural Design award goes to AD Architects for designing the Patrick Moore Building. See the image on Flickr.


The observatory's 30th anniversary is marked by the opening of the newly renovated observatory by Dr Patrick Moore, along with the naming of Iain Nicolson Telescope.

The same year sees the opening of the £50,000 Great Ellingham observatory for the Breckland Astronomical Society. The University of Hertfordshire donated the dome having replaced the Marsh telescope dome during the observatory renovation. See the image on Flickr.

The mid - late 90s


The Observatory receives a massive refurbishment, modernising the facilities and refreshing the site with extensive renovations. Three new brick telescope domes are added, as well as what is now called the Patrick Moor Building.

See more images of the renovation.


The new 16 inch Meade LX200 computer controlled telescope is installed, then only the third of its kind in the UK. See the image on Flickr.


25th anniversary marked by the naming of the main 20 inch telescope as the Marsh Telescope, after Lou Marsh, the first observatory director who retired in 1987.

Tribute is paid by Dr Chris Kitchin (present director), Sir Norman Lindop, Professor Jim Hough, and Dr Patrick Moore. See the image on Flickr.

The early 90s


The Observatory receives a visit from Doctor Who himself. BBC Education film a series entitled Heavenly Bodies at the Observatory, presented by actor Peter Davison - also starring as the Doctor in the well-known, long-running sci-fi series at the time. The photo shows Davison posing with astronomy lecturer Iain Nicolson.


The Observatory receives a visit from Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut.


The Burns' Day Storm, one of the strongest on UK record, destroys 3 domes (housing a 16-inch Cassegrain, 14-inch SCT and the Brinton telescope).

The domes are replaced with new steel Ash domes in December of that year.

The 70s and 80s


Observatory technician Bob Forrest and lecturer Iain Nicolson observe an occultation of a star by Saturn's largest moon Titan, contributing to the further understanding of Titan's atmosphere.

The occultation of 28 SGR by Titan.


The antique Vince refracting telescope is given to the observatory on permanent loan.
See the image on Flickr.


The main 16-inch telescope is modified to fit a new 20-inch mirror.


A 12-inch Newtonian telescope built in the 1900s is donated to the observatory by Henry Brinton. See the image on Flickr.


A new 6-inch refracting telescope is installed alongside the 16-inch telescope, allowing much greater student participation in observational work. See the image on Flickr.

The main 16-inch telescope was used on 70 nights during the previous year, limited by climatic conditions, short summer nights and statutory holidays.


The Polytechnic Astronomical Society set up by students. 10% of full time polytechnic students choose to attend courses in astronomy.

A new 8-inch remotely controlled siderostat is installed to make spectroscopic observations. See the image on Flickr.

A run off housing for a 10-inch reflecting telescope enables a permanent mounting for use with student practicals and projects.

Early History


The Observatory is opened with a single 16-inch Newtonian/Cassegrain telescope for use visually or photographic cameras. A nearby building houses a laboratory, project room, workshop and office. Formally opened by Dr A. Hunter, deputising for the Astronomer Royal who had unfortunately suddenly been taken ill.


Bayfordbury Observatory is built in the grounds of Bayfordbury Mansion by Hatfield Polytechnic (now the University of Hertfordshire) who occupy the land after it is acquired by Hertfordshire County Council.


Electrical engineering lecturer Julian 'Lou' Marsh proposes to the academic board that astronomy is offered as a new course after a successful trial, and that a university observatory is built to support it.