Dark Sky Observatory work under way in Dalmellington
Work is under way on a Dark Sky Observatory at the Galloway Forest Park in south west Scotland.
Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing took part in the groundbreaking ceremony at Dalmellington in Ayrshire.
The new facility, which has received £94,000 in funding from the Scottish government, will be used by schools, colleges and universities.
Ministers said they also hoped to capitalise on the recent popularity of the BBC's Stargazing Live programme.
The Galloway Forest Park straddles the regions of East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway.
It received Dark Sky Park recognition in 2009, and is the only such site in Britain.
End Quote Cath Seeds Observatory manager
Often, the science can feel overwhelming, so we want the observatory to break down these barriers by bringing together astronomy, nocturnal natural history and arts and crafts inspired by the night sky”
The new observatory, costing almost £700,000 in total, aims to build on the park's status and will offer visitors a chance to observe the Northern Lights, the Milky Way, planets, comets and shooting stars.
Mr Ewing said: "Scotland has made an immense contribution to shaping the modern world through science and research excellence, and this new observatory builds on our reputation as a hotbed of innovation and ideas.
"The creation of a state-of-the-art, first of its kind in Britain, observatory will attract stargazers and astronomers from near and far.
"The Galloway Forest Park area enjoys some of the darkest skies in the world and this new facility will showcase the area's stunning natural scenery and resources to attract new visitors and investment to Ayrshire."
Observatory manager Cath Seeds said it had taken two years to "generate the enthusiasm and raise funds for this project".
She paid tribute to the wide range of organisations funding the scheme.
"Often, the science can feel overwhelming, so we want the observatory to break down these barriers by bringing together astronomy, nocturnal natural history and arts and crafts inspired by the night sky," she said.
"We also want to play a key role in the future development of this area.
"Great things are occurring and great talent is abundant.
"Our role is to improve science in our community, whether by inspiring the next generation of scientists or providing the spark needed by an inventor to produce something truly remarkable."
Depute leader of East Ayrshire Council, Iain Linton, said it would be a "huge asset" to the area.
"It will hopefully attract not only local visitors, but many tourists and keen stargazers from around the world who I'm sure will be extremely impressed with the new facility," he said.
"This in turn will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area and will really put East Ayrshire on the map."