It isn’t often that amateur astronomers have exclusive access to a fully equipped observatory, let alone one built by an award-winning architect. But, until recently, that was exactly the scenario for the Swansea Astronomical Society in southern Wales.
The Tower of the Ecliptic (also known as the Swansea Observatory or the Marina Towers Observatory) was designed by architect Robin Campbell in 1989 for the local astronomical society. The group occupied the facility starting in 1993, when the building opened, and used the space to lead public observing sessions and educate the public about astronomy.
The building’s coastal setting and distinctive design make it a Swansea landmark, but its what is inside that really attracted visitors. Walking up to the observing room along the brick tower’s spiral staircase and around a hanging scale model of the solar system, the walls are bathed in vibrant blues and purples from the stained glass oculus overhead.
Once inside the dome, at the top of the adjacent tower, visitors would be greeted by a 500-mm Shafer-Matsukov telescope, the largest of its kind and the largest telescope in Wales. Their attention would then be drawn upwards, where the dome’s 5-meter shell floats upon a trough of water and oil. This clever design feature allows the dome to be turned using only one finger.
Such architectural elements made the Tower of the Ecliptic an exciting educational setting as well as a rare union between art and science. In early 2010, however, due to a disagreement with the Swansea City Council regarding the building’s rental terms, the astronomical society decided it could no longer afford to occupy the observatory.
Unfortunately, for visitors and the citizens of Swansea, this disagreement means the observatory is closed and a valuable educational resource has been lost, for the moment at least. In the meantime, the Swansea Astronomical Society continues to hold regular observing sessions at the University College of Swansea while science buffs and curious kids hope to see the one-of-a-kind observatory reoccupied soon.
The building is still open, with a popular cafe and bar selling everything from brunches to evening meals.
Know Before You Go
When traveling east on Trawler Road in the Maritime Quarter, take The Slipway. There is an undercover car park on the corner, and further parking alongside the harbour.