The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE) is an astronomical institution located on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh. The site is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The ROE comprises the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) of STFC, the Institute for Astronomy of the School of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Edinburgh, and the ROE Visitor Centre. The observatory carries out astronomical research and university teaching; design, project management, and construction of instruments and telescopes for astronomical observatories; and teacher training in astronomy and outreach to the public. The ROE Library includes the Crawford Collection of books and manuscripts gifted in 1888 by James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford. Before it moved to the present site in 1896, the Royal Observatory was located on Calton Hill, close to the centre of Edinburgh, at what is now known as the City Observatory.
The University of Edinburgh in 1785 and by Royal Warrant of George III created the Regius Chair of Astronomy and appointed Robert Blair first Regius Professor of Astronomy. After his death in 1828 the position remained vacant until 1834. In 1811 private citizens had founded the Astronomical Institution of Edinburgh with John Playfair – professor of natural philosophy – as its president. The Institution acquired grounds on Calton Hill to build an observatory, which was designed by John's nephew William Henry Playfair; it remains to this day as the Playfair building of the City Observatory. When the Earl of Crawford learned of the plans to close the Royal Observatory, he offered to give the instruments of his own Dunecht observatory and his unique astronomical library to the nation on condition that the Government build and maintain a new Royal Observatory to replace the one on Calton Hill. Ralph Copeland was appointed third Astronomer Royal for Scotland and oversaw the move of the two observatories from Dunecht and Calton Hill to Blackford Hill. The new site was opened in April 1896. The ROE operated the UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST) since it was opened in 1973.
This took photographic plates in blue light of the entire southern sky. Together with red-light plates taken by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) they form the ESO/SERC Southern Sky Survey, which in turn extends the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey beyond its southern limit. In 1988 the telescope was handed over to the Anglo-Australian Observatory, which until 2010 operated it for Australia and the United Kingdom (UK); in July 2010, the Australian Astronomical Observatory was formed, to operate the telescope as part of a facility entirely under Australian control. The photographic laboratory and plate library for the UKST remained at the ROE in Edinburgh. Since 1967 the ROE had been operating a machine (GALAXY – General Automatic Luminosity And X-Y) to digitise photographic plates. After the opening of the UKST, this was upgraded to become the COSMOS (COordinates, Sizes, Magnitudes, Orientations and Shapes) machine in 1975. It operated until 1993 and was replaced by a new SuperCOSMOS machine. When in 1980 the Starlink Project was formed to support astronomical image processing in the UK, the ROE became one of the six original nodes of the Starlink network. In 1994 the SERC was split up and the ROE became part of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).
In 1995 the merged observatories were dissolved into four independent entities. Having lost the UKST in 1988 – the ROE now also lost the UKIRT and the JCMT, operated by the independent Joint Astronomy Centre. ROE retained its role of building instruments for telescopes and satellites. It also became the UK project office for the construction of the Gemini Observatory, a pair of 8.1-metre telescopes run by no fewer than seven countries. A review of the Royal Observatories in 1996 concluded that the running of observatories and building of instruments should be put out to competitive tender, raising the fear of privatisation or closure. In 1997 this came to a halt and instead it was decided to reduce the RGO and the ROE into a smaller single astronomy technology centre. In 1998 the RGO was closed, while the ROE escaped lightly: The Plate Library and SuperCOSMOS machine were handed over to the University of Edinburgh, while the technology and project management expertise of the ROE – and to a lesser degree of the RGO – was retained by the newly-formed UK Astronomy Technology Centre, which superseded the ROE as the Edinburgh establishment of the PPARC. (The ROE name remains as an umbrella term for UKATC; IfA, Edinburgh University; and the Visitor Centre). The original 1894 building includes two cylindrical copper domes on top of the East and West Towers.
These were refurbished in 2010. The East Dome still shelters a 36-inch (0.9 m) Cassegrain reflector that was installed in 1930. This is part of the visitor centre exhibition, but is not operational any more. A 16/24-inch (0.4/0.6 m) Schmidt camera was installed in the West Dome in 1951. In 2010 this was removed to the National Museum of Scotland. The only working telescope is a Meade MAX 20in ACF (0.5 m) reflector in a hemispherical dome on top of the teaching laboratories. This telescope is used for undergraduate teaching. As of April 2012, the 1967 telescope and mount have been removed to Mid-Kent Astronomical Society; a replacement telescope will be installed later in 2012