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Ashford set to have planetarium called Ashford International Space Science and Discovery Centre with observatory

A multi-million pound space centre with an observatory and 200-seat planetarium is being planned for Ashford.

Ashford Astronomical Society (AAS) has already put in funding bids for the ambitious development, which would be built to the south of Ashford, close to Romney Marsh, where visitors will benefit from some of the only skies in the South East not affected by light pollution.

The centre, which has the working title Ashford International Space Science and Discovery Centre, promises a research observatory with up to six professional grade telescopes that could be used remotely by scientists all over the world as well as by those visiting Ashford.

An area of Kent has the second worst levels of light pollution in England. Picture: Library image

Possibly the largest planetarium in the UK, featuring cinema and conference facilities, is planned along with Science Museum-style hands-on exhibits – such as ball games to demonstrate gravity and replica tornadoes – designed to appeal to young people.

Apprenticeship schemes and lessons for children are on the cards and scientists from the UK and Europe will be able to book sessions on the telescopes.

Drew Wagar, AAS chairman and founding member, said: “I am confident this will become a reality.

"We have submitted some funding bids and we are already looking at planning regulations, where the centre could be located and transport links.

The Horsehead and Flame nebulae. Picture: Steve Welstead
The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster. Picture: Steve Welstead

"We hope to have it built within the next two to three years.

“The building and running costs will be in the millions – significant but not outrageous.

“We haven’t got an exact location, that will depend on availability of land, but it will be away from the town, towards Romney Marsh where we have these amazing dark skies.

Ashford Council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson

“We recently discovered that Bad Münstereifel, the German town Ashford is twinned with, has the biggest radio telescope in Europe so the centre could link up with that, which will be nice.”

Mr Wagar proposed offering people the chance to sponsor a telescope as a way of raising funds and getting the community involved.

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