Astronomical History - Aberdeen Area

About AAS
AAS News
Meetings & Events
Local Stargazing
Contact/Join AAS
Request a Talk
History & Records
Aberdeen's Night Sky
Members Page

Solar X-rays:

Geomagnetic Field:


Latest Weather
(incl MetOffice Rainfall Radar)



This web page is being developed to record aspects of Astronomical History of the Aberdeen Area.

Please email , or contact directly,   if you have ideas, information or leads to assist this task.  


Astronomical Societies
Famous Astronomers in Aberdeen
Astronomical Observations


Astronomical Societies

1969 Aberdeen & District Astronomical Society formed 
          (later renamed as Aberdeen Astronomical Society in 2005)

         ADAS / AAS History

Return to Top

Famous Astronomers in Aberdeen

"Stars from the NE"  - Astronomers from North East Scotland
"Stars from the NE" - Talk to the Robert Cormack Bequest Astronomical Meeting in Aberdeen, 31st March 2003, by Dr John S. Reid, Cruickshank Lecturer in Astronomy, Department of Physics, Fraser Noble Building, The University, Aberdeen AB24 3UE 

other copy at  
Patrick Copland (1748 - 1822)

Painting of Professor Copland

References : 
Reid, J.S., 2004. The Scientific Apparatus of Professor Patrick Copland of Marischal College, Aberdeen [ PDF document at]

David Gill (1843-1914)
David Gill [b. Aberdeen, Scotland, June 12, 1843, d. London, January 24, 1914] makes a classic photograph of the Great Comet of 1882 that shows so many stars that the idea of stellar cataloging by photography is born. Gill proceeds to map most of the stars visible in the Southern Hemisphere using his new method  [source ]

Gill was educated at the University of Aberdeen. In 1862 he was allowed to use the small telescope at King’s College Observatory after returning to Aberdeen. He also acquired a 12-inch (30.5 cm.) reflector for the College so he could try to determine stellar parallaxes. [ source ].  

He used the parallax of Mars  to determine the distance to the Sun and also measured distances to the stars. [ source

In 1872 he became director of James Ludovic Lindsay's private observatory near Aberdeen [ source - Encyclopædia Britannicae

Bibliography at
  -  Obituary - ApJ 40 (1914) 161   

David Gill
[ Obs 37 (1914) 115 ]

Lord Lindsay (James Ludovic Lindsay - later 26th Earl of Crawford)
A talented amateur astronomer, engineer and photographer, who founded an observatory on his family’s country estate at Dun Echt, near Aberdeen, Scotland, which functioned successfully from 1872-92 and survived as a major component of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh

References : 
Br¨uck, M. T. 2004.  Lord Lindsay's Expedition to Mauritius in 1874 : Transits of Venus: New Views of the Solar System and Galaxy Proceedings IAU Colloquium No. 196, 2004.  PDF document at

James Clerk Maxwell
Physicist and astronomer James Clerk Maxwell gave classes at Marischal College [ source ].
Robert Cormack ?

Return to Top


Cromwell Tower Observatory (CTO).  
The University of Aberdeen's observatory can be found at the top of Cromwell Tower in King's College quadrangle. It's called the Cromwell Tower Observatory, or CTO for short. CTO Homepage

The present observatory was fitted out with its first set of modern refracting instruments in the 1860's. The instruments have now been relegated to the University museum and in 2000 refurbishment of the twin domes began with up-to-date reflecting telescopes. After years in which the main use of the observatory has been meteorological, a program that will establish astronomical observations is being put together.  

[ Professor David Thomson and David Gill were involved in setting up the CTO ] 

Lord Lindsay's Observatory at Dun Echt
Lord Lindsay's new Observatory at Dun Echt, which was 12 miles from Aberdeen.  David Gill was invited to became directory of the observatory in 1872.  Gill was given the task to equip and supervise the construction of this new Observatory, which Lindsay insisted on being the very best possible.

Dun Echt Observatory flourished for almost twenty years but, in 1888, on learning that Scotland’s modest Royal Observatory in the city of Edinburgh was under threat of closure Lindsay, now 26th Earl of Crawford, saved the day by magnanimously donating the entire contents of his observatory including its by now priceless library to the nation. The whole was housed in a new Royal Observatory building, completed in 1896, which remains the home of Edinburgh astronomy with Edinburgh University’s IfA (Institute for Astronomy) and, the UKATC (United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre). [ source

Brück, H.A., 1992. Lord Crawford’s Observatory at Dun Echt 1872-1892. Vistas in Astronomy 35: 81-138. 
Lindsay, [Lord] and Gill, David, 1877. Dun Echt Observatory Publications, Volume 2. Dun Echt Observatory.

Dun Echt Observatory Publications (Vol 1, 1876 | Vol 2, 1877 | Vol 3, 1885) at 

Castlehill Observatory, Aberdeen

Reid, J.S., 1982. The Castlehill Observatory,  Journal for the history of astronomy, Vol.13, pp 84-96 



Historic Telescopes at the University of Aberdeen (Notes by Dr John S. Reid, Jan 2006 )  

Stars from the NE (an article about NE Astronomers by Dr John S. Reid.  )



Equatorial Telescope by Sisson and Ramsden - a weighty 19th century telescope given as a gift to the Castlehill Observatory founded by Professor Patrick Copland on behalf of Marischal College. 



Astronomy in Aberdeen - monography by David Gavine - a few typewritten pages. I
David Gavine : Astronomy in Scotland 1745-1900 - PhD Thesis, Open University 

Biographies  in the new Dictionary of National Biography : Sir David Gill, James Ludovic Lord Lindsay, Patrick Copland, Andrew Mackay

and turned it into a thesis for which I was awarded a PhD by the Open University in 1982. This contains quite a lot about astronomy in the university. It would be useful for you to start with the biographies of some of the most important characters in the new Dictionary of National Biography : Sir David Gill, James Ludovic Lord Lindsay, Patrick Copland and the one I wrote, Andrew Mackay. Then have a look at some 

Contemporary sources :  R. Wilson, "An Historical Account and delineation of Aberdeen" Aberdeen 1822, and 
P. J. Anderson, "Records of the Marischal College and University", Spalding Club 1884, 3 vols. 
G. Forbes, "David Gill, Man and Astronomer", London 1916. 
H. A. Bruck, "Lord Crawford's Observatory at Dun Echt 1872-1892" in Vistas in Astronomy 35, 1992. 

Dr John S. Reid of the University Physics Dept has done a lot of research on Professor Copland and on the Castle Hill Observatory, & has published some things in magazines 

Quite a lot has been written on the Gregory family (James Gregory of Gregorian telescope fame)


Astronomical Observations

Leonid Meteors  1998-11-17  
Observations by David Richards. 05:20-05:50 UT.  Drove to dark sight just beyond Westhill, Aberdeen with full view of sky.  Observed for 30 minutes during which time I saw around 80 Leonid meteors including a high proportion of fireballs (Mag -5 to -10). Peak rates where up to 4 or 5 meteors each minute (equivalent to 200-300 per hour). Meteors where all moving very fast. I had a fantastic view of them. Some of the fireballs were exceptionally bright, and momentarily lit up the sky and the ground, even when looking in completely the opposite direction  The number of dim meteors were relatively few.  It was clear to me that this was something exceptional and was some 11-12 hours ahead of the predicted peak (due at 19:00 UT). Quite a few of the meteors where clearly a very long way in the distance, being low down near the horizon and only visible because of their exceptional fireball brightness. The brighter meteors had smoke trails, which lasted at least 2-3 minutes. Several of the meteors appeared to explode with faint projectile appearing to extend beyond the end of the bright ionization trail (see picture below). A thin crescent of the Old Moon was observable at dawn with very distinct earthshine. [source ]
Leonid Fireball, emitting faint projectile
beyond 'explosion' point
Inverted from original sketch 
by David Richards (1998)

Return to Top



All photographs on this website are the copyright of AAS members.  Please contact AAS before using them.