Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge

Coordinates: 52°12′51″N 0°05′36″E / 52.2141°N 0.0934°E / 52.2141; 0.0934
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Institute of Astronomy
DirectorCathie Clarke and Mark Wyatt[1]
FacultySchool of Physical Sciences, University of Cambridge
AddressMadingley Road
Institute of Astronomy Observatory Building, housing the library

The Institute of Astronomy (IoA) is the largest of the three astronomy departments in the University of Cambridge, and one of the largest astronomy sites in the United Kingdom. Around 180 academics, postdocs, visitors and assistant staff work at the department.[3]

Research at the department is made in a number of scientific areas, including exoplanets, stars, star clusters, cosmology, gravitational-wave astronomy, the high-redshift universe, AGN, galaxies and galaxy clusters.[4] This is a mixture of observational astronomy, over the entire electromagnetic spectrum, computational theoretical astronomy, and analytic theoretical research.

The Kavli Institute for Cosmology is also located on the department site.[5] This institute has an emphasis on The Universe at High Redshifts. The Cavendish Astrophysics Group are based in the Battcock Centre, a building in the same grounds.


Institute of Astronomy Hoyle Building in the evening

The institute was formed in 1972 from the amalgamation of earlier institutions:

  • The University Observatory, founded in 1823. Its Cambridge Observatory building now houses offices and the department library.
  • The Solar Physics Observatory, which started in Cambridge in 1912. The building was partly demolished in 2008 to make way for the Kavli Institute for Cosmology.
  • The Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, which was created by Fred Hoyle in 1967. Its building is the main departmental site (the Hoyle Building), with a lecture theatre added in 1999, and a second two-storey wing built in 2002.

From 1990 to 1998, the Royal Greenwich Observatory was based in Cambridge, where it occupied Greenwich House on a site adjacent to the Institute of Astronomy.


The department teaches 3rd and 4th year undergraduates as part of the Natural Sciences Tripos or Mathematical Tripos. Around 30 students normally study the masters which consists of a substantial research project (around 1/3 of the masters) and students have an opportunity to study courses such as General Relativity, Cosmology, Black Holes, Extrasolar Planets, Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics, Structure and Evolution of Stars & Formation of Galaxies.[6] In addition, there are around 12 to 18 graduate PhD students at the department per year, mainly funded by the STFC. The graduate programme is particularly unusual in the UK as the students are free to choose their own PhD supervisor or adviser from the staff at the department, and this choice is often made as late as the end of their first term.

Notable current staff[edit]

An incomplete list of notable current members of the department.

Notable past members and students[edit]

Here are some notable members of the department and its former institutes.[citation needed]


Observatory buildings containing the Northumberland Telescope (left) and Thorrowgood Telescope (right) at the Institute of Astronomy of the University of Cambridge. Covered structures in the foreground are mounts for portable telescopes.

The Institute houses several telescopes on its site. Although some scientific work is done with the telescopes, they are mostly used for public observing and astronomical societies. The poor weather and light-pollution in Cambridge makes most modern astronomy difficult. The telescopes on the site include:

The institute's former 24" Schmidt Camera was donated to the Spaceguard Centre in Knighton, Powys in Wales in June 2009.

The Cambridge University Astronomical Society[7] (CUAS) and Cambridge Astronomical Association[8] (CAA) both regularly observe. The nstitute holds public observing evenings on Wednesdays from October to March.[9]

Public activities[edit]

The 36-inch telescope being used for the 2011 Cambridge Astronomy Association Introduction to Astronomy course.[10]

The department holds a number of events involving the general public in astronomy. These include or have included:


The institute library is housed in the old Cambridge Observatory building. It is a specialist library concentrating on the subjects of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. The collection has approximately 17,000 books and subscribes to about 80 current journals. The library also has a collection of rare astronomical books, many of which belonged to John Couch Adams.[15]


Among the significant contributions to astronomy made by the institute, the now decommissioned Automatic Plate Measuring (APM) machine was used to create a major catalogue of astronomical objects in the northern sky.[16]


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Institute of Astronomy: About the Institute
  3. ^ The Institute of Astronomy: Past and Present Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ The Institute of Astronomy: Research
  5. ^ The Institute of Astronomy: Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge Archived 2007-09-25 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Part III Lecture Courses - 2020-21 | Institute of Astronomy".
  7. ^ Cambridge University Astronomical Society
  8. ^ CAA Home
  9. ^ "Institute of Astronomy - Public".
  10. ^ Introduction to Astronomy – Week 4
  11. ^ Institute of Astronomy » Public Activities
  12. ^ Astroblast Archived 2007-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Institute of Astronomy » Public Activities
  14. ^ The Astropod - Institute of Astronomy Podcast
  15. ^ Hurn, M. "An English Astronomical Library: the case of the Cambridge Observatory" The Observatory, Vol. 124, No. 1178, pp. 37-46 (2004)
  16. ^ Irwin, Mike. "Overview of the APM Facility". Cambridge University. Retrieved 9 March 2014.

External links[edit]

52°12′51″N 0°05′36″E / 52.2141°N 0.0934°E / 52.2141; 0.0934