On June 5th 1973 a group of 20 people who were interested in astronomy met in Pontefract Library. They formed the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society (W.Y.A.S.) and their search for a suitable meeting place began. After several years the Carleton Community Centre offered the group a site in the Centre's grounds and granted them permission to build an observatory there. The group combined their organisational skills to create a plan for a serious observatory that the club could grow into. Building the observatory started in June 1977 with every member pitching into the build process that took 6 years to complete. Sir Patrick Moore performed the opening ceremony on 25th September 1983.
Initially the Observatory housed an 18-inch reflecting telescope that had been made out of tractor axels and Mini car exhaust pipes. It was very professionally built and lasted until November 1997 when problems with the original drives occurred. Renovation did not work to the standard required and after a grant application it was replaced with a Meade 14-inch LX200 GPS telescope.
The W.Y.A.S. members have worked tirelessly since its inception to bring astronomy to the community. Their work is unpaid and the Observatory is open once per month to members of the public on open nights. These, together with arranged group visits, regularly attract up to 2,000 people per year. Although there is a Members Night each Tuesday members of the public are always welcome to attend and listen to the professional scientists who turn up each month to give lectures, or simply join in with whatever we have arranged.
In the past 8 years the members have made a huge effort to raise funds with the sole intention of bringing astronomy to people who have disabilities. This has resulted in an extension to the building being erected, which incorporates a wheelchair ramp, a disabled access toilet facility, a kitchen and a warm computer room. In addition a large amount of research grade imaging equipment has been purchased and computer networking installed. We are also working on automating the dome. The purpose behind all of this work is to provide people with disabilities a facility where they can carry out their own projects with the minimum of help by able-bodied people. This will be the only facility in the country that we know of where people with disabilities will be able to take their interest in astronomy from basic learning to professional / amateur status. Our aim for the future is to join in with international research projects to that anyone who is interested can improve their skill levels to the highest attainable.
We started off with 20 members. Since then membership has risen and varied between 60 and 110 each year. One 9 year old member has even grown up and obtained a PhD in the subject. WYAS is open to everyone so why not come and join us? Help us take astronomy to the people.